SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
West Virginia handled Villanova's four-guard look last season, when the Wildcats didn't shoot well and Da'Sean Butler hit for a career-high 43 points for the Mountaineers. WVU doesn't need those same numbers again – but it will have to be more attentive to rebounding and all-around defense than most fans might expect. Villanova head coach Jay Wright runs a four-guard set that, upon initial glance, might be expected to lack rebounding or putback ability. And, indeed, against a team with length like West Virginia, it is more difficult for the ‘Cats to match their season average of 40 boards per game. But consider that those 40 rebounds are more than WVU averages and one can begin to grasp really how prolific the Wildcats are all over the floor. Three players, led by guard combo Scottie Reynolds (6-2, 190 lbs.) and Corey Fisher (6-1, 200 lbs.), average double figures and four more hit for 8.5 or more points per game on average. The top seven combine for more than 70 points per game out of the team's average of 85. Reynolds, who lends himself more to a two-guard look, can play both spots. A terrific three-point shooter, the All-Big East honoree had made 127 of 261 (40 percent) from beyond the arc and is nearing 50 percent from the floor overall in averaging 18.7 points. The senior plays a team-high 30 minutes per game and has 35 steals and a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. He was the 2009 NCAA Tournament East Regional MOP, and more than any other VU player, combines hustle, great defensive skills, raw physical ability and honed talent with floor leadership and intelligent play. He is among the best guards in the league, and indeed perhaps the best the Mountaineers will face all season. Fisher, the de facto point guard, has 90 assists and is adept at creating shots for teammates. The junior isn't as good a shooter as Reynolds, but scores off the dribble just as well and more often gets into the lane than his counterpart. He averages 13.7 points per game and, like Reynolds, shoots 80 percent from the line. He isn't as solid at pressuring the rim in transition as is WVU's Truck Bryant, more often choosing to pass. But he has a bevy of moves from all over the floor and involves all four other players well. A starter this season, he was the conference's Sixth Man of the Year last season.
The other two guards – Reggie Reading and Corey Stokes – function more like a duo of swingmen. Reading (6-5, 205 lbs.) is better away from the ball and at defending, while Stokes (6-5, 220 lbs.) excels at scoring in the paint. Reading, a senior, hits for nine points and five rebounds while shooting 44 percent. He has taken just 20 threes, as Wright likes to get as many looks to Reynolds and Fisher as possible, but his size and experience level are solid, and his two-to-one assist-to-turnover margin is welcomed more than his average points per game. This is likely the most understated player for the Wildcats, but one that does almost all the correct things on the floor. Stokes, the bruiser of the two, actually has better range than Reading and has taken 100 threes, making 37. The junior shoots mostly from outside, but because of the shots taken by Villanova, his perimeter size has led to good rebounding numbers off the long board opportunities. Stokes is a more physical player than his range and shooting stroke would indicate, and though he isn't a finisher around the rim, he will body up on rebounds and try to impose his will and a sense of physical dominance on smaller players. The lone non-guard, forward Antonio Pena (6-8, 235 lbs.) is the resident rebound junkie at seven per game and has the ability to play with his back or face to the bucket. The Brooklyn native is shooting 59 percent, and he has taken just one three all year, missing it. On a team with lesser stature, his job is prowling the interior and trying to get tip-outs or putbacks. He has amassed 54 offensive rebounds and scores 11 points per game. Pena's issue is that he is almost always matched against the largest opposing player – often its strongest, too. Thus, he often has resorted to fouls to slow teams, and has fouled out of almost one-quarter of the team's games this year. The five DQs have hurt his minutes and production, but Wright does have some 6-10 and 6-11 bodies available in reserve.
|Mon. Feb. 8
7 p.m. EST
WVU 19-3, 8-2
VU 20-2, 9-1
|Sirius Channel: 91|
WVU - 4
VU - 5
The most commonly used of those is center/forward combo Maurice Sutton (6-11, 215 lbs.). The redshirt freshman plays 11 minutes per game and has posted very good offensive rebounding numbers, nearly matching his on the defensive end. The average totals aren't great because of his lack of time, but Sutton run the floor well and can score around the rim. He needs to add strength and weight, but he has some skills. The other forwards are Taylor King (6-6, 230 lbs.) and Isaiah Armwood (6-7, 205 lbs.). King plays 21 minutes, the most of any non-starter, and can score from inside and out. He has made 71 of 156 shots, 33 of 81 from three, and has the second-most rebounds on the team. The sophomore is a Duke transfer, and has nice range on the outside. He averages nine points and six rebounds and will challenge the Mountaineers off the bench. Armwood sees about 10 minutes, and all his action is inside the arc. The true freshman is a good shooter and likes to play in transition. He'll develop into a good rebounder in time, and shows major upside. The guard reserves are Maalik Wayns (6-1, 185 lbs.) and Dominic Cheek (6-6, 185 lbs.). Wayns is the quickest guard on the team and gets into the lane and through presses well. The freshman out of Philadelphia was a parade and McDonald's All-American as a prep senior last year and is playing a respectable 16 minutes per game. He is shooting decently and is able to hit from anywhere. His overall game and development don't rival that of the starters yet, but Wright has another good one here. Cheek plays 15 minutes and, as another true freshman, is the best pure shooter Wright signed in last year's class. He needs way more weight, bulk and strength, but has shown a mastery of the basics and was recognized as a collegiate talent early. He averages five points and three rebounds, but is a defensive liability at times.
Villanova shot 42.3 percent in last year's loss at West Virginia. The ‘Cats uncharacteristically missed 13 of 18 three-pointers, a stat that doesn't seem likely to repeat. VU did struggle to make shots against Georgetown, but also rallied nicely in that game before falling for their first Big East loss this season. This game is key for league standing and postseason tournament seeding, but it won't make or break either team's year or RPI, as both stand to benefit from the top five match-up. WVU will need to guard the perimeter well and crash the boards for rebounds. Finding a body when rebounding will be imperative, as well creating decent offensive looks to get to the line. Georgetown used its size and offensive style to gain a major edge in free throw shooting, likely what carried the Hoyas to the win. West Virginia has created great offensive chances for itself from the stripe in the last three games, and getting ‘Nova in foul trouble early would aid the effort. Neither team has much prep time for this game, and indeed the line-ups on both sides would indicate an athletic game with highlight potential. Villanova will want to run and play fast, WVU wants a halfcourt style with lower scoring. The Coliseum has seemed to be a difficult place to play for Wright's teams, as the Mountaineers are 12-3 against the Wildcats in home games – including a 9-3 record at the Coliseum. West Virginia is 5-2 at the Coliseum against Villanova since joining the Big East, and seems to hold a psychological and shooting edge most of the time. That's an intangible difficult to measure from season to season. The idea for the home team is to rebound well, get to the line and control tempo without turning the ball over. The visitors want to knock down shots, play fast when possible and utilize their quickness to offset size issues. It's worked for both teams most of the year. Who can impose the will upon whom?
This is the first of three Big Monday games for West Virginia. This is just the second time in Coliseum history that WVU and its foe are ranked in the top 10. Syracuse and the Mountaineers were ranked in the top 10 in a game at the Coliseum earlier this season.
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Da'Sean Butler is fourth in school history in career scoring with 1,822 points. He has the most career double-figure scoring games in school history and needs five more to reach 100. He scored a career-high 43 points against Villanova last season.
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West Virginia's 19-3 start ties for its best since the 1997-98 Sweet 16 team.
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Wellington Smith is shooting 61.3 percent from the floor and 63.2 percent from three-point rang over the last five games.
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Villanova is 6-2 on the road this season. Jay Wright is 198-93 with the Wildcats in his nine-year tenure. WVU has won four of the last five games against Villanova.