SCOUTING THE GOLDEN GRIZZLIES
Oakland comes off a loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and returns the talent to exceed that run last year.
The Golden Grizzlies have an NBA talent in center Keith Benson, a 6-11, 230-pound senior who averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Benson's length and interior scoring ability are good, and he gets enough help from the guard play to force teams to guard the outside – opening holes in the paint and entrance passing lanes that often enable him to work off the block. West Virginia must try to force Benson away from the paint and keep interior passes from reaching him in opportune scoring positions.
The center is an average passer, but will look to dish if double-teamed, often to a cutting Ledrick Eackles. The guard scores six points per game, and has the strength to drive to the basket and take on WVU's physical defense. At 6-2, 196 pounds, Eackles is well proportioned. He is still settling into the game as a sophomore, though, and will be expected to increase both his minutes played and productivity. Not a major threat on the boards, Eackles averaged a pair of rebounds as a frosh last season.
The major backcourt punch comes from Larry Wright, a former St. John's player who hit for 11 points and 2.5 rebounds per game last season. Wright shoots decently (33 percent from 3-point range last year), and is the team's primary outside threat after taking a team-high 162 threes last season. His total shooting attempts (337) were second only to Benson's 390.
|Fri. Nov. 12
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Power forward Will Hudson (6-9, 235 pounds), averages six points and five rebounds. He shoots well and must be guarded all over the floor. A solid rebounder, Hudson also plays well in the post on defense and could hassle Kevin Jones, as he doesn't have an issue trying to stay with players on the outside.
Key reserves are guards Blake Cushingberry (6-3, 245 pounds) and Drew Maynard, 6-7, 225 lbs.) and forward Drew Valentine (6-5, 225 lbs.). Cushingberry averaged five points last season, mainly from three-pointers. He isn't a threat to drive much, but does get to the line more effectively than Maynard, who shot 46 percent from the field, and about the same from the foul line (nine of 20). Maynard is a better defender and rebounds decently. Valentine didn't record a start last season, but did play in 32 games while averaging just more than a point and a rebound per game. He is expected to do more than steal minutes this season, subbing at the three and four spots as needed. He didn't shoot much last season, and will need to contribute a bit more this season to give the starters some needed rest.
West Virginia should have superior guard play, and be able to find some additional inside scoring in Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli. The former is a proven commodity, while the latter has improved defensively in the offseason while adding muscle and bulk. That will help the Mountaineers counter Keith Benson's ability to pound on the interior and score from close range. The senior isn't likely to maintain his 10 rebound-per-game average against WVU, but could get his points, especially if Kilicli struggles in the plus-minus ratio. As Huggins often explained last season, it does little good to score four points while allowing six. Keep an eye on how the sophomore, just now entering his first full season, manages the ratio and how he is able to blend with Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones and John Flowers.
Overall, the Mountaineers have better depth and players, but the athletes they have largely have not played together, and the absence of a go-to scorer looms large. This game could be closer than most fans anticipate; Oakland is a legit NCAA Tournament team, and it starts three seasoned seniors.
West Virginia has won 30 consecutive games against non-conference teams. It is 49-2 against non-Big East teams in the last eight seasons.
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WVU needs five wins to reach 500 in Coliseum history. It has won 77.8 percent of its games in the facility. The Mountaineers are 3-0 all-time against members of the Summit League.
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Under Huggins at home, the Mountaineers are holding foes to fewer than 60 points per game on average. The average margin of victory is more than 17 points. Huggins is 3-0 all-time versus Oakland and head coach Greg Kampe, all coming during his Cincinnati tenure.
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West Virginia is trying to win its 93rd home opener in 102 tries and make its sixth NCAA Tournament in seven years. It comes off a Final Four appearance after winning the Big East postseason tournament.