UPDATING THE WILDCATS
Villanova is just 3-3 since beating West Virginia 82-75 on Feb. 8. The ‘Cats lost to Connecticut, Pitt and a red-hot Syracuse team that seems to have secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Teamed with wins against Providence, South Florida and Cincinnati, VU has sealed the second spot in the Big East regular season and has a double bye heading into tournament play. The same is true for the Mountaineers, though WVU could slip to fourth with a loss, as Pitt owns the tiebreak over West Virginia. So while there truly isn't a ton for which to play, WVU can work on some aspects that plague it most, notably defending guards who can get into the lane to score or distribute. For Villanova, that means Scottie Reynolds (6-2, 190 lbs.). The senior torched the Mountaineers in the first meeting for 21 points with 10 of 10 free throw shooting, and is averaging 19 points per game. He drives well and has an array of jumpers and finishing moves around the bucket that make him among the most difficult matchups in the league. He shoots well, converts from the line and has a solidly positive assist-to-turnover ratio. He will also involve teammates and, simply, is a very tough get for whoever must defend him. Guard counterpart Corey Fisher (6-1, 200 lbs.) doesn't have the overall skills of Reynolds, but is averaging 14 points and three rebounds and has an impressive 116 assists to 59 turnovers. A junior, Fisher is a bit thicker and gets a shoulder into opposing players to bully into the paint. He doesn't have the outside touch of Reynolds, but is still a deep threat. The third guard in head coach Jay Wright's three-guard, two-forward set, Reggie Reading (6-5, 205 lbs.) doesn't get the cudos of the other two but has the most balanced game. The swingman averages 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds and has started playing well down the stretch after missing 10 games this season. The senior is a very good defender and moves well without the ball to get into open scoring spaces on the floor. Reynolds' size-speed combo is a concern for some teams, but should not hurt West Virginia much if it can find him and get a body during rebounding.
Forwards Antonio Pena (6-8, 235 lbs.) and Mouphtaou Yarou (6-10, 250 lbs.) have widely varying games. Pena is a scorer at 11 points per outing, while Yarou, a freshman, adds height and length and the ability to limit good chances for foes around the rim. Pena plays the third-most minutes on the team behind Reynolds and Fisher, and is making 57 percent of his shots from the floor. He leads the team in offensive and defensive rebounding, though the physical penchant of his game has led to eight foul outs this year. This will be just the fifth start for Yarou this season. He is quickly becoming a good post-up player, and he operates well with his back to the basket. He rebounds well, but takes limit shots – of which he has made 59 percent (27 of 46). The main interior reserves are Taylor King (6-6, 230 lbs.) and Isaiah Armwood (6-7, 205 lbs.). King came off the bench to grab eight rebounds against West Virginia earlier this season, while Armwood scored eight points and added four boards. The duo gave great support to the starters, and were a main reason WVU could never push over the top after trailing early. King plays about half the game and is a threat from inside and out. He has taken 105 threes out of 188 total shots, making 38 from behind the arc. The Duke transfer has great range and should be able to force WVU further outside to open the driving lanes. Armwood's game is entirely inside, and, at 10 minutes per game, doesn't get the time of King. He has greater athleticism, though, and is good off the glass and in transition. Armwood averages three points to King's 7.7. Backup guards Maalik Wayns (6-1, 185 lbs.) and Dominic Cheek (6-6, 185 lbs.) are both freshmen biding their time until the departure of Reynolds and Fisher. Wayns is the better shooter, and will take more outside looks. He is seeing more time as the regular season progresses, but in the tournament those minutes should lessen. Wayns isn't a great shooter at 43 percent, 35 from three, but he breaks down defenders well and can protect the ball, two keys for a point guard. Cheek is shooting 45 percent, but doesn't have the outside touch of Wayns. Cheek, a McDonald's All-American, is a better fit at the two-guard slot. He rebounds well and averages five points per game.
|Sat. March 6
WVU 23-6, 12-5
VU 24-5, 13-4
|Sirius Channel: 123|
WVU – 6
VU – 8
The idea here is that West Virginia must attempt to do something it has not concistently accomplished all season: stop guard penetration from guards capable of doing just that to force increased passing and cut down good looks, open kick-out shots and, likely, more unguaded three-point and midrange jumper attempts. Villanova excelled in guard slashing to provide potential points around the rim, free throw opportunities and good outside looks. The Wildcats also rebounded effectively against the lengthier, stronger Mountaineers by inserting a few larger players who were able – back to point one – to take advantage of player positioning on the floor for West Virginia. Because WVU allowed dribble drives, its interior defenders (and, thus, often times rebounders) were forced to cover outside shots or bodies getting into the lane when they opened. That allows for better chances for boards from lesser-sized players because West Virginia has vacated spots it otherwise would have occupied. The thrust of the argument, then, is to stave off slashes and drives to the bucket, forcing outside shots that allow defenders – in this instance WVU – to get better chances at rebounds. The benefit is twofold and obvious. First, harder looks at the bucket. Second, the potential for more rebounds. Piece these two aspects together with decent defense, not-abysmal free throw shooting and an intelligent, opportunistic offense and the upset is ripe. Talent talks, however, and it will be difficult for the Mountaineers to do such. Still, Villanova is a great foe to end a very solid regular season. The real, final tests are to come.
This will be the first time West Virginia has played in the Wachovia Center. The Mountaineers have already clinched a double bye to the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament by finishing in at least fourth place in the regular season standings.
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WVU has won 13 of its last 17 games televised by CBS. Villanova and West Virginia have the first and second most road wins of any league team this season at 12 and 11, respectively.
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The Mountaineers are 59-9 under Huggins when outrebounding foes. A shorter, smaller Villanova team held its own well on the boards in a win over WVU at the Coliseum earlier this year.
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Huggins enters the regular season finale with 662 career wins. He needs two more victories to tie John Wooden for 21st place all-time in NCAA wins.
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Da'Sean Butler has 1,936 career points. Against Georgetown, Butler set the school record for career minutes played with 4,161. Johannes Herber previously held the record with 4,129 minutes played. Butler also managed his 100th double-figure scoring game versus the Hoyas.
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West Virginia set school records for average and total attendance this season. It averaged 12,377 fans to snap the former record of 11,384 during the 1981-82 season. The total home attendance of 173,281 bested the 1981-82 record of 170,762.
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Kevin Jones is among the few NCAA starting players who has more offensive rebounds (109) than defensive (107). Jones is a candidate for the Big East's Most Improved Player Award after boosting his scoring average from 6.3 points to 13.7 points and his rebounding numbers from 4.9 to 7.4 with much more minutes played. Jones has hit double figures in 24 of the last 29 games.
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Villanova is 12-1 at home this season, the lone loss coming to Connecticut. WVU is 5-12 against the Wildcats in Philadelphia. Wright is 4-6 against the Mountaineers; Huggins is 1-2 against Villanova.