MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Welcome to the championship game of the inaugural Crossover Classic, where West Virginia takes on a Western Kentucky team that has been both efficient and gritty in wins against Northern Iowa and Memphis.
In terms of playing in Thanksgiving tournaments under Bob Huggins, West Virginia has added to its trophy case a good bit. The Mountaineers won the 76 Classic (Anaheim, Calif.) in 2009, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in 2014, the Las Vegas Invitational in 2015, the AdvoCare Invitational (Orlando, Fla.) in 2017 and the Cancun Challenge last season.
We bring that up, because in each of those seasons, the Mountaineers (2-0) went on to play in the NCAA tournament, with the exception of last season, which was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The last time these two schools met came in the 2018 semifinals of the Myrtle Beach Classic, which was a 63-57 victory by the Hilltoppers, who will still have three starters playing today who started against WVU that day. Charles Bassey had 13 points and 15 rebounds, while guards Josh Anderson had 12 points and four steals and Taveion Hollingsworth had 13 points and four steals.
As for the Mountaineers, junior guard Sean McNeil continues to show a lot of confidence shooting the ball and scored 16 points each in wins against South Dakota State and Virginia Commonwealth. He’s connecting on just 35.5% of his shots from the field, but his willingness to take those shots have to show up on the scouting report and teams have to take notice of him.
“It’s just confidence,” McNeil said. “I know I can do it. I know I can make shots. That’s what Huggs brought me here to do. The only way to make shots is shoot them.”
Derek Culver got his offense going against VCU with 23 points and Oscar Tshiebwe stayed out of foul trouble against the Rams. The result? He grabbed 16 rebounds to go along with 11 points.
Foul trouble and overall depth could be a key today, as it appears to be a sort of even match-up on paper. For now, here’s what you need to know:
TV: ESPN (Comcast 35, 850 HD; DirecTV 206; DISH 140) for the 1:30 p.m. tip-off. Betting line: WVU is favored by 7 points.
VCU POSTGAME CHATTER
Huggins didn’t like how the Mountaineers turned the ball over 21 times against the Rams after committing just three against South Dakota State. VCU’s full-court press had a lot to do with that and Huggins admitted the Mountaineers hadn’t worked much on a press-breaking offense.
“We would have done a much better job if we had time to prepare,” Huggins said. “We haven’t worked on press-breaker. We will, obviously, soon. We’ve been trying just to get down the fundamentals.”
Derek Culver also talked about how much the game seems to be slowing down for him now. Over his first two seasons, the WVU forward always seemed to be in a hurry to make something happen when he caught the ball near the basket.
“For the most part, I feel like slowing down has helped me a lot,” Culver said. “It helps me to see the floor a lot better.”
LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT THE HILLTOPPERS
Western Kentucky played in a shoot-out (93-87) against Northern Iowa (93-87) and then in a more physical game (75-69) against Memphis. In both wins, Western Kentucky got to the free-throw line a lot (55 times combined) and didn’t shoot a ton of 3-pointers (41 combined).
Bassey and Hollingsworth offer the classic inside-outside combination and freshman guard Dayvion McKnight has been steady. Western Kentucky forward Carson Williams is a bit undersized at 6-5, but he knows how to play fundamental basketball near the rim and was probably the main reason why Western Kentucky beat Memphis in the semifinals with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Bassey is the guy you should know about, though. He was ranked No. 18 overall in the 2018 recruiting class, which also included the likes of players like Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, who are already in the NBA.
Bassey was thought to be a one-and-done prospect, too. He averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds as a freshman, but decided to come back for his sophomore season. He tore up his knee just 10 games into his sophomore season and required surgery and missed the rest of the season, which brought him back for his junior year.
“Well, as usual, they are very well-coached and Rick (Stansbury) does a great job of coaching them,” Huggins said. “They’ve got a lot of experience. I think that’s the thing that stands out about them, they’ve got three or four guys who have been three or four-year guys. They don’t lose their poise and they run what he wants them to run extremely well.”
There is also a West Virginia connection with Western Kentucky. Former Poca star Luke Frampton is a junior guard with the Hilltoppers. He started his college career at Davidson, but transferred this summer and was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. He is averaging 8.5 points per game coming off the bench. He scored 14 points in the first round against Northern Iowa.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
WEST VIRGINIA (2-0)
F–Derek Culver, 6-10, jr., 15.0 ppg, 14.5 rpg
F–Oscar Tshiebwe, 6-9, soph., 9.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg
F–Emmitt Matthews Jr., 6-7, jr., 5.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg
G–Deuce McBride, 6-2, soph., 17.5 ppg, 3.5 apg
G–Sean McNeil, 6-3, jr., 16.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg
WESTERN KENTUCKY (2-0)
C–Charles Bassey, 6-11, jr., 16.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg
F–Carson Williams, 6-5, sr., 9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg
G–Taveion Hollingsworth, 6-2, sr., 18.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G–Josh Anderson, 6-6, sr., 6.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg
G–Kenny Cooper, 6-0, sr., 8.0 ppg, 4.0 apg
It’s going to be a battle down low between Bassey and Culver, maybe a car wreck would be a better way to describe it. Tshiebwe has the advantage against Williams, but Western Kentucky’s guards seem to match-up pretty well with West Virginia’s guards. Taz Sherman coming off the bench could be a key for WVU and the fact that neither team has been great behind the 3-point line makes me think this will be a low-scoring game.
I’ll go with WVU, but I don’t like the Mountaineers covering the 7 points. It’s going to be closer than that.
WVU wins, 66-61.
Justin’s season picks against the spread: 1-1.