Rutgers' backcourt duo of Jerome Coleman and Mike Sherrod provide the classic setup and scoring pairing that coaches look for. Coleman (17.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg) provides the scoring punch, while Sherrod (4.6 ppg, 63 assists) is the playmaker. Their synergy shouldn't be surprising, as they played together in high school before coming to Rutgers.
Backcourt depth is being provided by Calvin Wooten and Juel Wiggan, who make the guard spots the deepest on the team. Wooten has averaged 18.5 points per game over his last three outings, while Wiggan has scored 23 points in his last two games.
In the front court, Herve Lamizana and Kareem Wright have replaced the duo of Eugene Dabney and Rashod Kent, but haven't been quite able to match their combined productivity. Lamizana is a rangy forward who presents problems with his height, while Wright (5.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) is the classic space eater who doesn't get many first looks in the offense. Wright recently lost his starting position to Sean Axani (3.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg) but Axani hasn't been able to bolster the offensive production on the front line a great deal. Wright's game is built around rebounds and stickbacks, and he's likely looking at WVU's rebounding problems as a chance to bolster his numbers and earn his way back to more playing time.
The front court's scoring threat is swingman Ricky Shields (13.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg), who is second on the team in scoring. Shields, like his counterpart Drew Schifino, is an undersized forward, but that's where the comparison ends. More than half of Shields' shots are three point attempts, and his 41% shooting from that range is a stat to be reckoned with.
Subs on the front line have been an issue. Wright is expected to come off the bench again in the WVU game, where he'll be joined by Jason McCoy (1.3 ppg). Also returning to the team is Adrian Hill, who has been suspended since late December.
Tyrone will have his hands full on both the offensive and defensive ends against Lamizana, but it's time for the talented sophomore to break out and reestablish the type of play he showed earlier in the season. A foe such as Lamizana might be a difficult one to achieve that goal against, but oftentimes it's better opponents that bring out the best in players.
|Sun 1/26 3:00 p.m.|
WVU 10-6, 1-3
RU 8-8, 0-4
WVU leads 36-24
Big East Local
WVU - 106
RU - 125
|Line: WVU -6|
Defensively, Sally will have to work to keep Lamizana, Rutgers' leading rebounder, off the boards when he's matched up man to man. More importantly, Sally can't ignore his rebounding duties when he's at the point of West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone. When a shot goes up, Sally has to come down the lane, get into an open spot and grab a few boards. WVU can't afford to have him watch from the perimeter and not get involved in the rebounding wars. Sally's quick leaping ability is matched only by Drew Schifino, and West Virginia needs players like that on the defensive glass to make up for their lack of height and bulk.
Unfortunately for WVU, this isn't Marshall they are playing. Despite losing five games in a row, the Scarlet Knights present many of the same problems that Boston College, Georgetown and other Big East foes pose. The Knights' perimeter scoring threats will force WVU to defend them on the three point line, which will open up areas for the space eaters underneath to grab rebounds and establish themselves in the post. West Virginia was able to beat Florida and Miami because those teams didn't have, or didn't utilize, the big player inside to complement their outside scoring games. And they beat Marshall, despite playing an average game at best, because the Herd ignored their post players. That's not the case with most Big East teams, and despite their losing streak, it's not the same with the Knights. Expect Rutgers to look inside to their big men early, despite their low scoring averages.
To combat this problem, look for WVU to continue to concentrate on cutting down on easy entry passes into the post. While the Mountaineers have undeniably played average to poor interior defense, it hasn't all been the frontcourt's fault. WVU's perimeter defenders must make it more difficult for opposing guards to get the ball to post players. They can do that by pressuring ballhandlers, especially when they have picked up their dribbles, and by keeping their hands out in passing lanes, especially those that lead into the lane and on the blocks.
Rutgers' main problem is that they just don't shoot the ball well from the field. The Knights are colder than the Northeast weather, hitting only 39.8 percent of their shots. They'll obviously be looking to combat that problem by getting the ball in close to the hoop, so the matchup of entry passes versus passing defense should be a big factor in deciding this contest.
It's still early to call a game a "must-win" but this one could get that label. A win would put the Mountaineers two games up on the Knights in the battle to get to New York. A loss, with a road trip to Rutgers still to come, could put WVU in the position of playing catch up for the rest of the season.
Strange stat of the week: WVU has shot better from the free throw line in their six losses (63.6%) than they have in their ten wins (57.4%).
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Despite averaging only 20 minutes per game, forward Sean Axani has fouled out four times in sixteen games.
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Just in case you think this game is going to be a cakewalk for West Virginia, Rutgers defeated Marshall by 19 points earlier this season.
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Rutgers does not have a winning record against any Big East team since joining the conference. Their best mark is 6-6 versus Pitt.