MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — After a quick stop in New York, the West Virginia men’s basketball team is back at the WVU Coliseum for a two-game home stand that begins today with Austin Peay (4-4), which maybe has one of the more interesting school chants in the NCAA.
Austin Peay (it’s pronounced pee) uses its “Let’s go Peay” chants as more than just a clever play on words. In the early 1970s, there was a lot more to it and it all centered around 6-foot-5 guard James “Fly” Williams. He was a Brooklyn streetball legend, who scored 1,541 points in two seasons at the school, and led the Governors to the 1973 and 1974 NCAA tournaments. He left after his sophomore season to play with St. Louis of the ABA.
In those days, the chant was, “The Fly is open, let’s go Peay,” which was shortened after his departure.
A longtime member of the Ohio Valley Conference, Austin Peay is coming off a 22-11 season and returns two starters, including 6-5 junior guard Terry Taylor, who is a pretty good scorer in his own right, averaging 22.5 points per game this season.
“I wouldn’t compare him with Fly,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “He’s good. He’s a good player.”
As the Mountaineers (7-1) try to correct what went wrong in Saturday’s 70-68 loss at St. John’s, here’s what you need to know:
TV: Nexstar/WBOY (Not available in Morgantown on Comcast); DirecTV 14, DISH 14 for the 7 p.m. game. BETTING LINE: West Virginia is a 15 1/2-point favorite.
WHAT DOES BOB HUGGINS THINK?
In his meeting with the media on Thursday, Huggins spoke about how the Mountaineers have responded since losing that game to St. John’s, as well as discussing his guard rotation.
THREE GOOD QUESTIONS
WHAT’S GOING ON AT POINT GUARD? Jordan McCabe hasn’t got off to the start he wanted. He’s shooting just 26% from the field and is 1 of 13 (.08%) from 3-point range. That hasn’t stopped him from being a good distributor. He’s got 22 assists in 107 minutes. Compare that to freshman Miles McBride, who has a team-leading 26 assists, but in 68 more minutes played. Brandon Knapper is the third guy at that spot and he’s been much better at taking care of the ball than he was last season.
The thought here is McCabe’s shooting will start to improve, which would help, but McBride is a better option on defense and is making better plays at the moment. It’s not exactly a bad thing to have three point guards capable of playing. As far as the rotation, McCabe is dealing with a severely sprained ankle, so McBride could move into the starting spot momentarily.
Don’t take any of this to be some sort of playing-time controversy. I think all three realize their roles and that roles can change over time. All three get along and learn from each other. Best-case scenario is McCabe gets healthy, McBride continues to get experience, Knapper continues to be a solid ball-handler and WVU still uses all three at different points in the game.
WHAT’S UP WITH THE 3-POINT SHOOTING? West Virginia is last in the Big 12 in both 3-point makes (43) and attempts (134). The arc moved back more than a foot this season, but Huggins does not believe that makes much of a difference in shooting percentages or strategy.
The major concern here is spacing, which Huggins has talked about a lot this season. If West Virginia can’t become a better outside shooting team, it makes little difference what Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe do on the inside, because they are going to be surrounded by defenders who don’t have respect for WVU shooters.
“I don’t think we’re playing near to our potential yet,” McCabe said. “Not every team has what we have. Not every team has a McDonald’s All-American and two potential first-round draft picks in the post. They make our job really easy. We’ve got to do a better job of making their jobs easier by making some shots. That’s what it comes down to.”
WHO IS THE ANSWER FOR THE SHOOTING WOES? Huggins said Taz Sherman is beginning to show more confidence in practice. McCabe’s numbers are going to go up. The smart money would be on sophomore Sean McNeil, who began to gain confidence in his shooting touch in the loss against St. John’s, where he was 4 of 7 from behind the arc.
We’re on a 5-game losing streak here against the spread, so it’s time to turn it around. For whatever reason, the Mountaineers have not been great at closing out games, with the exceptions coming against Pitt and Boston University. They’ve had five days to figure out what went wrong against St. John’s and make an attempt to fix it. I’ll take WVU wins and covers, 82-63.
JUSTIN’S SEASON PREDICTIONS AGAINST THE SPREAD: 2-5.