After a rough early start, the Wildcats rolled through the early part of their Big East schedule before losing at UConn last Saturday.
That's hardly an indication of collapse, however. The Wildcats have a strong and deep backcourt, and coupled with a solid productive frontcourt are leading the East Division of the Big East.
At guard, the Wildcats are led by senior Gary Buchanan, who seems to have been on the Main Line since about 1990. Buchanan scores many of his 15.9 points per game on three pointers, where he's shooting more than 40%. He's also an excellent free throw shooter, so he presents the double challenge of having to be guarded closely without fouling, a task the Mountaineers found difficult at Notre Dame on Wednesday.
Freshman Randy Foye (11.1 ppg) and junior Derrick Snowden (7.9 ppg) join Buchanan in the back court. Despite some ball handling problems, this trio moves the ball well and finds the open man with consistency.
The hits don't stop there, as freshman Allen Ray (10.4 ppg) provides scoring punch off the bench.
The front line isn't quite as deep, but the starters, forward Ricky Wright (12.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and center Jason Fraser (8.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg) are providing excellent balance for their backcourt mates. Both players rely on quickness and agility to get to the boards, and figure to be a handful for WVU's slower front line.
Andrew Sullivan and Curtis Sumpter provide respectable minutes, if not a great deal of scoring, as front line substitutes.
This battle of precocious freshmen will again put the spotlight on WVU's rebounding woes.
|Sar 2/1 2:00 p.m.|
WVU 11-7, 2-4
VU 12-6, 5-1
Villanova leads 17-7
WVU - 103
VU - 38
|Line: VU -8|
Pittsnogle must get his body in front of Fraser and keep him away from the basket. Although he's in the 6-10 range, Pittsngole isn't going to jump over many people for rebounds, so he must focus on the fundamentals of blocking out in order to get the job done of the boards.
Fraser doesn't shoot a lot, but his 55.1% mark from the field shows that he can get the job done when he needs to. WVU, and Pittsnogle, must keep the ball out of Fraser's hands in the paint.
Pittsnogle will give some challenges to Fraser on the offensive end, where the young Wildcat has 28 blocks from his position in the lane.
Once again, this matchup, like many of the battles on the inside, will come down to this: Will WVU's front line score more points and cause more problems than they give up on the defensive end?
VU: Michael Claxton (shoulder) Probable
With their three guard offense, Villanova provides a much better matchup for the Mountaineers than some teams. On the flip side, however, the Wildcats rebound with abandon, and every Mountaineer fan knows that the boards haven't been kind to West Virginia this year. Nova is recording 16.4 offensive rebounds per game this year -- a stat that has WVU faithful covering their eyes after being on the wrong end of Wednesday's rebound fest at Notre Dame.
Many times, however, obvious mismatches don't play out the way they look. Villanova is not particularly big up front, as Wright is in the 6-7 range and Fraser is not an overpowering physical presence. If Joe Herber can battle with Wright, and the tag team duo of Pittsnogle and Chaz Briggs can slow down Fraser, WVU could have a chance of getting their first road win.
Although Villanova has racked up an impressive early conference record, they do have some holes. The Wildcats have committed 45 more turnovers than assists, and don't have a guard shooting better than 42.7 percent from the field. Look for WVU to provide a bit more halfcourt pressure in an attempt to generate some easy transition baskets.
When Villanova scores more than 70 points in a game this season,they are 10-1. When they fail to reach that number, they are 2-5.
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Gary Buchanan has fallen to second place on the NCAA all-time free throw accuracy list at 92.19% after coming into the season as the leader. To retake the lead, he needs to make his next three free thows. He is 29-33 so far this year.
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Villanova holds a plus nine rebounding margin advantage against their opponents, despite starting just one player taller than 6-7.
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Due to the vagaries of Big East scheduling, the Mountaineers have not faced the Wildcats since March of 2001.