Providence has gone 4-1 over their last five games since shuffling their starting lineup, and they are expected to put that same five on the court to begin Wednesday's contest.
Forward Ryan Gomes (6-7, 240) leads the Friars with 18.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and will be a tough matchup for WVU inside. Gomes is a smooth operator around the hoop and has decent range, so the Mountaineers can't ignore him when he ranges out to the high post.
Forward Rob Sanders (6.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and center Marcus Douthit (5.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) don't have huge numbers, but either will hurt WVU if they pay too much attention to Gomes.
The Friars also pack plenty of punch off the bench. Forwards Maris Laksa (9.4 ppg), Tuukka Kotti (8.7 ppg) and Romuald Augustin (6.9 ppg) are all over 6-7 in height, and allow coach Tim Welsh to bring waves of front court substitutions into play. Augustin, a starter for much of his Friar career, has accepted his role off the bench with good grace. The resulting lineup has energized the Friars and made them very difficult to defend up front.
In the backcourt, freshman point guard Donnie McGrath has been a pleasant surprise, averaging 8.6 points and 4.6 assists per game while earning Big East all-rookie honors. He teams with Sheiku Kabba (10.7 ppg) to form a solid backcourt that can score from both the perimeter and the paint. McGrath and Kabba get a great deal of the minutes in the backcourt, primarily due to the absence of the injured Abdul Mills. Senior Kareem Hayletts provides the majority of backup minutes, but contributes very little offensively.
We usually like to highlight an individual matchup, but this one is too big to ignore. Sally will have to face off against Providence's corps of tall forwards and keep them off the boards and out of the lane.
|Wed 3/12 2:00 p.m.|
WVU 14-14, 5-11
PC 15-12, 8-8
PC leads 8-5
WVU - 94
PC - 56
|Line: PC -6|
On the offensive end, Sally needs to take his aggressiveness up a notch as well. Sally has an excellent first step to the basket, and has slashing ability to rival that of teammate Drew Schifino, but at times has seemed reluctant to use it in games. If Sally can get to the basket and force the Friars to respect his offensive game, the Mountaineers will have a much better chance of grabbing their second-ever Big East tournament win.
This is by no means an easy task. Like teammate Joe Herber, Sally has been worn down by facing off against bigger opponents night after night. However, it's tournament time, and many players have had their breakout games under the bright lights of the Garden. Hopefully, Wednesday will be Sally's time to shine.
PC: Abdul Mills (Hip) Out
Conventional wisdom says that this matchup is a good one for WVU, in that the Friars and Mountaineers did not face each other this year. With WVU's offense being a bit different than anyone else's in the Big East, that should be an advantage for West Virginia.
Of course, the Providence coaching staff has been studying WVU tapes and working with their players on the Mountaineers' sets the past three days, but, as John Beilein said recently, there's a difference between simulating an opponent's look in practice and actually facing it in games.
The Friars' big and versatile front line probably holds the key to this contest. With six players seeing significant minutes up front, Providence is rarely in danger of wearing down, and is able to put a variety of looks on the floor. That versatility could prove difficult for WVU to overcome.
The free throw line will also be a location to watch. The Friars lead the nation from that spot with a 78.8% team shooting average. Only one Mountaineer individual, Nick Patella, can match that rate.
As a result, West Virginia must play solid defense and avoid putting the Friars on the line. WVU has been good at foul avoidance this year, but struggled in that aspect in their last game against Virginia Tech. The Hokies were in the bonus with eight minutes to go in the first half, and a repeat of that scenario on Wednesday will likely lead to a WVU defeat.
WVU has won their last three meetings with the Friars - that's a rarity after the disaster of the 2001-02 season.
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WVU is 10-5 in games played on March 12.
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Providence coach Tim Welsh has yet to win a game in the Big East Tournament. He is 0-4 with the Friars at the Garden in March.