#8 Villanova hosts West Virginia University Saturday at noon in a game that will decide who keeps pace with Pittsburgh (at the top of the Big East standings) and Notre Dame, currently the sole #2 in the conference. Both teams have taken circuitous routes to this place. The Wildcats thought they would go nine (at least) deep with their blue ribbon sophomore class progressing nicely, but pushed by their two freshmen recruits, James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston. Bell, feared at one point to lose the season, has rehabbed and gets a few minutes each game. Pinkston, out on discipline issues, should rejoin the team next season. The Sophomore Progress Report is mixed, with the jury still out on several well regarded players. For West Virginia, the major action has been off the court. ...
...Conference opponents only for common foes, as the two teams run in different D1 "circles". Villanova fills a large part of it's OOC dance card with Philadelphia teams (the Big 5), while West Virginia has similar local rivals centered in the greater Pittsburgh metro area (Robert Morris, Duquesne). Of their conference opponents, good luck trying to decypher what has gone on before. +30 versus Providence? -15 on the road?! That both teams sport a 4-2 record against that common slate is strange indeed. The absence of a discernable treand confirms what those who have watched the games this season suspect -- the Big East, as has most of the power conferences this year, is having a chaotic, wide open race for most of the conference tournament seeds so far...
|South Florida||W (A)||+12||W (H)||+10|
|Georgetown||L (H)||-3||W (A)||+6|
|Providence||L (A)||-15||W (H)||+30|
|Louisville||W (H)||+14||L (A)||-1|
|Cincinnati||W (H)||+11||W (A)||+11|
|Marquette||W (H)||+5||L (A)||-5|
West Virginia's best OOC win was a three point victory over Vanderbilt (SEC, 15-6, 3-4, RPI #24), a win that looks better to the RPI than Ken Pomeroy. Pomeroy values the 'Eers win over Duquesne (A-10, 15-5, 8-0 #28 Kenpom) a bit more. Best conference wins include the 65-59 road win at Georgetown (17-5, 6-4, RPI #5) and at home versus Cincinnati (16-3, 3-3, RPI #35), a convincing 15 point win. Their single loss, a 12 point loss at Pittsburgh earlier this week, did little to diminish their tournament resume.
Villanova's marquee out of conference win is still the Temple University (A-10, 16-5, 6-2, RPI #35) game, a four point decision, in December. The Wildcats' best win overall was their 11 point road victory over Syracuse (17-4, 6-4, RPI #16) in conference play last month. Villanova's worst loss, a 15 point spanking at the hands of Providence (BE 14-9, 3-7, RPI #99) also last month. Other losses in conference play include a two point loss to UConn in Storrs and a three point home loss to Georgetown last weekend...
...The team that takes the court Saturday is surely not the one envisioned by Coach Bob Huggins in the weeks before Fall Practice. David Nyarsuk and Noah Cottrill are no longer in the program, though Nyarsuk may be in Morgantown next season. Of the two Cottrill was more likely to have an impact this season, but, recently suspended (for the second time since last September) guard Casey Mitchell aside, Coach Huggins has a pool of seven players among whom he typically allocates starts and playing time. Should Mitchell's second indefinite suspension this season be lifted by game time, the senior 6-4, 220 pound guard will probably start alongside junior Darryl Bryant (6-2, 195 pounds), a back court pairing the WVU staff has used in nearly 17 of the Mountaineers' 22 games this season. Red shirt senior Joe Mazzulla (6-2, 200 pounds) will come off the bench to sub in at the point when either Bryant or Mitchell sits. Sophomore wing Dalton Pepper (6-5, 230 pounds) will see minutes, most likely more than 10, at various points in the game. The wing has seen his minutes decline slightly since the start of conference play, but this is a home-coming game of sorts for the Pennsbury graduate. Look for the staff to tab senior 6-7 215 pound forward John Flowers and 6-8, 260 pound junior forward Kevin Jones to start in two of the three forward spots. The fifth starter will go to the player with who best fits the game plan and has probably practiced/played well lately. Senior forward Cam Thoroughman, one more of a seemingly endless supply of 6-7 forwards (Coach Huggins loves 'tweeners) has gotten the nod lately, but the staff has also tabbed (the recently departed) Dan Jennings and (6-9, 270 pound) sophomore Deniz Klicli for starts in the last six games. The spot does not appear to be nailed down yet. If Coach Huggins goes deeper than eight, expect to see Jonnie West (fifth year senior) first.
Coach Wright juggled the lineup for the Wildcats' home game with Marquette. Adjusting the starting line-up he had used in Villanova's first 21 games, the Coach decided to continute starting the three seniors, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena, but pair Fisher and Stokes in the back court even as he left Pena at the #4. Coach Wright tabbed the fourth "regular" starter, sophmore center Mouphtaou Yarou for the #5, but decided to start sophomore Isaiah Armwood at the #3 and bring sophomore point guard Maalik Wayns off the bench early. While the change up may well have been to confound Marquette specificially with a match-up problem, having two 6-0 guards side-by-side can be problematic on defense, espeically one that relies so heavily on man defense with switching principles. The bench was short for the Warriors, limited largely to Wayns and spot appearances by freshman James Bell, and sophomores Dom Cheek & Maurice Sutton. The Marquette game marked a departure in the usual Villanova rotation, those three typically see playing times range between 10 and 20 minutes.
By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Expect a modest clash of pace, as Villanova looks for a possession or so more than the Division 1 average (67.5) while West Virginia typically plays for three or so possessions less than the D1 average. Pomeroy projections suggest the two teams will settle for something in between (about 65 possessions), but in five of Villanova's last six games the 'Cats have had fewer than the projected possessions. This one might yield a game barely in the 60s, which would spell trouble for Villanova, as it would suggest the 'Cats are getting few points in transition. A "Four Factors" comparison when West Virginia has the ball...
|When the Mountaineers have the ball...|
The Mountaineer offense is ranked #24 according to Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report, one of the near elites in Division 1. Coach Huggins' squad rebounds their misses among the very best in D1. Coach Huggins' offensive strategy is fairly straightforward, toss the ball at the basket and then rely on those athletic forwards to get the rebound and score on putback opportunities. They get to the line well, (41.3% of their FGAs, ranked #98 in D1), which suggests those rebounding battles can get physical. Perimeter defense has been a source of handwringing for the Nova Nation, but they will most likely not have to worry Saturday, West Virginia three point shooting falls in the bottom quarter of three point shooting, though frankly their two point attempt conversions are among the top third of Division 1. They are among the elites at covering the offensive boards, thereby giving themselves second chance opportunities. This mtachup is crucial for Villanova, as the Wildcats are among the elites for defensive rebounding. In two losses of their four losses, the Wildcats were unable to control the defensive boards, allowing their opponents to gather >35% of their misses. This should be a good benchmark for the Villanova front court and staff game planning. Holding West Virginia to the D1 average would be a huge boost, but that struggle beneath the boards could well test the Wildcats' depth at the forward spots. While West Virginia is good at getting to the line, they are an average team at converting those opportunities. Villanova has become particulary good at defending the shot, their eFG% defense is ranked #26 in D1. If Villanova starts Armwood but struggles to contain West Virginia's offensive rebounding in the first half, look for the type of half-time adjustment that might call for more bodies to crash the boards. That would however, diminish fast break opportunities. With poor three point shooting, Villanova's staff may feel that having both Wayns and Fisher together in the back court may be less risky than having both in against Marquette (a much stronger three point shooting squad). The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus West Virginia's defense:
|When Villanova has the ball...|
The Eer's adjusted defense is 89.8, ranked #18, among the elites for Division 1. They are very strong shot defenders (excellent at defending the three and above average defending the two), but are only "above average" (ranked in the upper 1/3 of D1) at keeping their opponents off the line and merely average at forcing turnovers. The Mountaineers are not good defensive rebounders, a weakness which contrasts sharply with a Villanova offensive strength. Though the difference in rebounding rates is relatively small (about 0.5), it suggests Villanova should have a good day rebounding their misses. And that would be very good given the Mountaineers' outstanding shot defense. Another key indicator for West Virginia's defense however is fouling -- they don't. For Villanova, used to netting 25% or more of their points at the line may well have to find another source for posting points, assuming they cannot coax more fouls out of Coach Huggins' squad.
Want to Beat West Virginia? Then...
Shooting is always critical, make them miss and convert your own, but...
1. Couple their misses with poor(er) rebounding. West Virginia can survive a shooting day (eFG%) in the 40s if they rebound their misses strongly, but they cannot survive a shooting day in the 30s, irrespective of their rebounding. West Virginia is 1-2 when shooting in their eFG% is <40%. The only time they won (South Florida), their opponent shot even worse than they did. If the Moutaineers are shooting in the 40s, then limit their offensive boards to the Division 1 average (about 33%). In games where they shot in the 40s and rebounded in the 30s they went 1-1.
2. Convert your shots. Sounds easy, no? Make them miss and hit your own. Like their offense, combine shooting (eFG%) and offensive rebounding. In games where their opponents converted at 50% or higher (eFG%), WVU is 2-3. In games where opponents convert at 40% (but less than 50%) and rebound at Villanova's average or better, the 'Eers are 1-2.
3. Get to the line. In games where WVU's opponents have an FT Rate (FTA/FGA) of 36.8 or higher (Villanova's rate is 44.1), they have gone 3-5.
...Villanova lost back-to-back games in the Wells Fargo Center as they staggered to the finish last season. The games, played two weeks apart (with a Pavilion game in between) were against Connecticut and West Virginia. Before that, the Wildcats lost to Notre Dame after they lost to Syracuse (with a trip to Pittsburgh in between). Pomeroy is calling this one for the 'Cats, 65 possessions and a four point winning margin, with a 66% degree of certainty.