UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Welcome to the Mohegan Sun Arena (it holds 9,323), the home of the 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase, where West Virginia (6-3) looks to take on Rhode Island (4-3) in a regular season game for the first time since 1995, when both schools were members of the Atlantic 10.
Final exams just concluded for the Mountaineers, who have had eights days off to prepare for a Rams team that relies heavily on half-court defense and hopes it makes just enough shots to win. If that sounds familiar, well, that’s pretty much how the Mountaineers played under Bob Huggins before the creation of “Press” Virginia and what they appeared to be heading back to becoming before last week’s 69-59 victory against Pitt.
Just to recap quickly, West Virginia was able to get it’s full-court pressure going again against the rival Panthers, forcing a season-high 24 turnovers while also showing the ability to run and trap. It will be interesting today to see if the Mountaineers continued to develop that during their week of practice or if it was just a one-game deal that came against Pitt’s pair of freshman guards who probably weren’t expecting it.
Moving forward, the Mountaineers are 3-1 under Huggins playing on casino property, with all four games coming in the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, which is a smaller arena than what the Mountaineers and Rams will play in today. The Rams have really struggled to shoot the ball. There’s no telling what playing in a new environment will do for that, although it’s tough to think a bad-shooting team will all of a sudden turn it around when playing in a gym for the first time. West Virginia, too, could have troubles adjusting to shooting in the arena. It’s one thing to keep an eye on early in the game.
Here’s what else you need to know:
TV: CBS Sports Network (Not regular CBS) for the 1 p.m. tip-off. BETTING LINE: WVU is favored by 7.
THREE GOOD QUESTIONS
Will this be a defensive struggle? It appears to be heading in that direction. While Rhode Island is struggling offensively, the Rams have been pretty good on defense, holding teams to 40 percent shooting and 25 percent from 3-point range. Rhode Island does have an experienced point guard in junior Jeff Dowtin, who leads the team in scoring and minutes played. Forward Cyril Langevine was a role player on Rhode Island’s NCAA Tournament teams the last two years who has developed into a double-double machine this season (he has six consecutive double-doubles heading into this one). Sophomore guard Fatts Russell is also coming into his own, but has a tendency to turn the ball over a few times a game.
Will West Virginia turn the ball over? This is the other key to the game. West Virginia had a season-high 26 turnovers against Pitt. That’s worth talking about a little bit, because it’s the most turnovers the Mountaineers have had in a game since Gale Catlett was coaching. West Virginia’s 16.4 turnovers per game is last in the Big 12 by a pretty decent margin (No. 9 Oklahoma State averages 15.2 turnovers). The concern is the turnovers could counter what ever defensive improvements the Mountaineers have made. It may not matter if they get the press going again if West Virginia just keeps giving the ball right back.
What does the NET say? This game probably looked good on paper when it was developing last year, as the Rams were heading into the second round of the NCAA tournament for a second straight season under then-head coach Danny Hurley. But, Hurley left to become the coach at Connecticut and Rhode Island lost five seniors from last year’s team. In any way, the NCAA Evaluation Tool has the Mountaineers ranked No. 101 and Rhode Island at No. 120. Also, a little nugget, the Rams will make a visit to the WVU Coliseum next season.
ALLAN TAYLOR’S PICK
Allan took the Mountaineers, 75-66.
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