NEW YORK — Welcome to the inaugural Big East/Big 12 Battle, where West Virginia (7-0) travels to Madison Square Garden to play St. John’s (7-2), which hasn’t exactly been tested in its seven wins (Mercer, Central Connecticut State, New Hampshire, Columbia, UMass, Wagner and St. Peter’s).
What is the Big East/Big 12 Battle? It is an agreement between the two leagues that will run through the 2022-23 season in which five home games will be split between each conference. It began Wednesday, with Texas Tech losing to DePaul in overtime and Oklahoma State losing to Georgetown. WVU is at St. John’s and Marquette is at Kansas State for the two games today. The remaining six games are spread out from Dec. 8-22, so we may not know the winner for some time. The featured game is Kansas at Villanova on Dec. 21.
As for this match-up, the Mountaineers will play the Red Storm for the 38th time. WVU holds a 20-17 edge in the previous meetings, but have lost the last two. As for the Battle itself, you can say it’s still early, but I believe we will find out a lot about the overall strength of the Big 12 with these games. So far, it doesn’t look good.
Here’s what you need to know:
TV: FS1 (Comcast 30, 857 HD; DirecTV 219; DISH 150) for the noon game. BETTING LINE: West Virginia is a 4 1/2-point favorite.
GET TO KNOW MIKE ANDERSON
St. John’s coach Mike Anderson got his start in coaching serving as an assistant under Nolan Richardson for 17 seasons at Arkansas. It is there that the phrase “40 Minutes of Hell” was coined in terms of the Razorbacks’ full-court pressure. Anderson has taken that philosophy with him to his head coaching stops at UAB, Missouri, Arkansas, and now, St. John’s.
WVU, which had its own Press Virginia style of play, met up with Anderson during the 2010 NCAA tournament, when he was coaching at Missouri. The Mountaineers turned the ball over just 10 times that day and came away with a 68-59 victory.
WVU head coach Bob Huggins said he expects St. John’s to show multiple full-court presses in an effort to try and speed up the game.
THREE GOOD QUESTIONS
WHICH DEREK CULVER AND OSCAR TSHIEBWE WILL WE SEE TODAY? If the current pattern holds true, it’s Tshiebwe’s turn to have the spotlight, as the two WVU big men have traded back and forth all season with good games and then some not-as-good-games.
“It’s kind of happened that way, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily a pattern,” Huggins said. “I think foul trouble and who’s guarding (Tshiebwe) and who’s guarding Derek has a lot to do with it. Also, I think it has something to do with how well Derek plays.”
There are two main concerns with the two. For Tshiebwe, it’s a simple matter of him knowing where to be on offense and to keep proper spacing, so the defender on Tshiebwe can’t easily slide over to double team Culver. For Culver, he has had to put a lot on his back early on and his 37.1 field-goal percentage is not what you want to see from a guy who takes the majority of his shots five feet from the rim.
“When Derek gets double-teamed, he just thinks it’s that much more exciting,” Huggins said. “So, he still tries to score.”
WHAT’S THE SCOUTING REPORT ON ST. JOHN’S? Senior guard Mustapha Heron is a guy you need to know. He’s a senior, who transferred from Auburn in 2018. He’s a four-year starter and has averaged more than 14 points per game in each of his first three seasons. He’s got 154 career 3-pointers and could become one of the few players to ever say he scored 1,000 career points at two different Division I schools.
Junior guard L.J. Figueroa is another to keep an eye on. He’s shooting 22 of 50 from 3-point range. Freshman guard Julian Champagnie has scored in double figures in each of his last five games and he went for 14 points and 11 rebounds against St. Peter’s.
The Red Storm play fast and shoot even faster, with a bunch of athletic guys who are in the 6-foot-5 to 6-9 range. WVU can slow down the tempo by working the ball inside and trying to make it a physical game, but the Mountaineers can’t get hit with a bunch of turnovers that turn into transition buckets at the other end.
WHAT DOES WVU HAVE TO DO IN ORDER TO BREAK INTO THE TOP 25? Apparently a lot. The Mountaineers received just 28 votes in this week’s AP poll. A win today would be nice, but probably won’t overly impress many voters.
Upcoming games against Austin Peay, Nicholls State and Youngstown State could make for a nice 11-0 start. The last time that happened was during the 2009-10 Final Four season. But then comes the Ohio State game in Cleveland, followed by two road games against Kansas and Oklahoma State, and, well, if the Mountaineers do get ranked, they could quickly be unranked, too.
My best guess is if the Mountaineers are 14-3 or better after the Jan. 18 game against Kansas State, then they would have a real case that couldn’t be denied by any of the voters. If they are 18-3 or better after the Feb. 1 game against Kansas State, then the Mountaineers would likely be pushing for a spot in the top 12, but so much can happen before then.
I’ve missed on the last four games, but the Mountaineers have played well away from the WVU Coliseum and have had nearly a week to rest up and prepare for this game. I’m going with West Virginia winning and covering the spread, 78-69.
JUSTIN’S SEASON PREDICTIONS AGAINST THE SPREAD: 2-4.