SCOUTING THE HUSKIES
Connecticut has struggled this season, but seems to be peaking after knocking off Villanova and beating Rutgers for consecutive wins. The Huskies lack some of the top playmakers they have had in the past, though the return of head coach Jim Calhoun has invigorated the team, and this game especially is a tough match-up for West Virginia – which is 0-7 all-time at UConn. Point guard Kemba Walker and shooting guard Jerome Dyson are arguably the most dynamic backcourt duo in the Big East outside of Villanova. Walker (6-1, 172 lbs.) averages 14 points and four rebounds and, at 35 minutes per game, is rarely off the floor. The sophomore muscles into the lane well and is very good off the bounce. He attacks the rim well and can overpower other guards. His shooting percentages are average, but he distributes well and he has 148 assists to 84 turnovers. He is among the better defenders in the league, and he has 55 steals this season. Dyson (6-4, 190 lbs.) hits for 19 points and five rebounds. The senior is making just 31 percent from three-point range and is hovering around 40 percent from the floor overall. He is a very good defensive rebounder, and plays with good intelligence. He doesn't have the passing numbers of Walker, and that are of his game isn't his strength, but without his shot falling well he has tried to compensate by involving others more. This is Connecticut's best offensive player, and slowing him will be a very difficult task. The interior offensive threat is forward Stanley Robinson (6-9, 220 lbs.), a senior who has finally settled on and of the floor. Robinson is having another banner year at 16 points and eight rebounds, and his length, strength and talent will test WVU. He has a more refined offensive game than Devin Ebanks, similar defensive ability and can step outside the arc and knock down shots. He is making 51.4 percent overall, 36 percent from three, and his rebounding ability and putbacks can cause major issues for defenses. He does turn the ball over three times a game on average, and at times still goes through mental lapses. Still, this trio is very good, and it seems to be getting its game together in the latter stretches of the season.
The other two starters are forward Ater Majok and center Charles Okwandu, who is now starting full time after Jonathan Mendeldove was ruled academically ineligible. Majok is primarily a defensive player and rebounder, as he averages just three points and three rebounds per game. With much better depth through the big men, Majok is playing about 15 minutes per game. His shooting numbers are good, though he has yet to take a three and doesn't often get to the line. He's a serviceable player not asked to do much for elongated stretches because of good talent and depth around him. Okwandu sees even les time at seven minutes per outing, and has made just 13 buckets this year. The junior averages a point and a rebound, and, again, is a far more significant player on the defensive end with his wingspan. The two have started 17 and nine games this year, respectively, and aren't really in UConn's top five in terms of production.
|Mon. Feb. 22
7 p.m. EST
WVU 21-5, 10-4
UConn 16-11, 6-8
|Sirius Channel: NA|
WVU – 5
UCONN – 45
Instead, Calhoun uses a pair of freshmen who quickly come off the bench. Forwards Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (6-7, 210 lbs.) and Alex Oriakhi (6-9, 240 lbs.) play 11 and 25 minutes, respectively, and average three and five points. They both have very good upsides and together give the Huskies and inside-outside ability at the forward slots. Coombs-McDaniel will shoot the three, though his numbers are not great of now. He also passes better, and can operate from anywhere on the floor with comfort. His size isn't an issue, though, and he has not seen the level of defensive intensity that the Mountaineers will show. Oriakhi, a McDonald's All-American and the prep Player of the Year for New Hampshire, is very athletic and pressures the rim well. He is shooting 46 percent from the field, but struggles at the line. He is an excellent rebounder, and gives UConn another putback threat. The other interior reserve is center/forward Gavin Edwards (6-10, 230 lbs.). The senior is red hot from the field at 61 percent and his offensive rebounding numbers are very good (10 points, seven rebounds per game). He controls his frame well and, though he comes off the bench, is a primary player at 30 minutes per game. He leads the team with 62 blocks and will be a great match for Deniz Kilicli when the two physical, tough players battle underneath. The guard backup is Donnell Beverly (6-4, 190 lbs.), a junior averaging two points, a rebound and about one assist per game. He doesn't see near the time of the top forward reserves at 10 minutes, and he really isn't much of an outside threat. He is an average shooter and passer, and he doesn't play lockdown defense. In all, this is a decent reserve who can give some quality minutes per game.
This game is a mix of ones in which West Virginia has struggled. Connecticut has a legitimate inside threat, good guards that can penetrate and kick out for good looks to get to the rim and some good depth. The problem is that, unlike Syracuse, Notre Dame, Villanova and Purdue, the outside shooting isn't quite as good. Good three-point threats have forced WVU's man defense to extend, thus opening lanes to pass and drive. Those lanes won't be as sizeable for Connecticut until it proves capable of making more than 33 percent. This will be a battle on the inside with Connecticut's guards trying to get to the basket and the rebounding and physical toughness of each team. WVU hasn't played well against the Huskies on the road, but this Mountaineer team has more talent than most past ones have, and UConn has not pieced together many complete games. This one could come down to runs, and which team takes less time off during the 40 minutes and is better able to extend hot streaks. Look for physical play, bodies on the floor and a general sense of skill that has mental lapses.
UCONN: C Jonathan Mendeldove (Academics), Out.
West Virginia has won 11 away games this season, second most in the Big East behind Villanova. The Mountaineers have five Big East road wins, the most it has amassed since 1996-97. Huggins has 13 Big East road wins in three years, more than John Beilein tallied in his five-year tenure and just four shot of Gale Catlett's total of 17 in seven years.
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Huggins is just the second coach in school history to win 20 games in each of his first three seasons at WVU (George King, 1961-63). His next win will give him the school coaching record for most wins in the first three seasons.
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West Virginia is 17-0 this season when holding foes to less than 70 points.
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Da'Sean Butler needs three points to become the third WVU player all-time to reach 2,000 career points.
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UConn is 13-3 in home games this season; all three losses have been in Big East play. The first two meetings between the teams came in the 1963 NCAA Tournament and the 1988 NIT. West Virginia is 0-7 at Connecticut all-time. Jim Calhoun has coached in all but one series game between WVU and UConn.