SCOUTING THE EAGLES
Morehead State returns three senior guards from the 25-10 squad that won its league and knocked off Louisville in the NCAA tournament, and that trio provides the backbone of this year's squad. Terrance Hill is the scoring leader, averaging 13.3 ppg so far, while counterpart Ty Proffitt adds 8.7 points per outing and leads the team with seven assists. In two starts, Lamont Austin has chipped in with 3.7 ppg, with all of his field goals coming from beyond the arc, where he complements the outside shooting of Hill and Proffitt. Together, the threesome is 14-31 from long range.
Off the bench, Marsell Holden, Angelo Warner, Devon Atkinson and Deandre Mathieu get the bulk of the backup minutes. Holden averages 6.0 points in 18.3 minutes per outing, while Warner (5.0 ppg) and Mathieu (4.7) are also scoring threats that can't be ignored. Atkinson is a solid defender who has gotten his points in transition, while Mathieu, a freshman, has fashioned a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio in the early going. The quartert gives the Eagles a number of combinations which they can employ during a game.
The interior game is powered by Milton Chavis, who has come off the bench in two of MSU's three games. He's made the most of his time, averaging 8.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg in fewer than 16 minutes of play per game. Along with starter Drew Kelly (8.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Chavis helps keep balls alive on the offensive end. Of the pair's 35 combined rebounds, 16 have come off the offensive glass.
The other starter, Jordan Percell, has averaged just 3.0 ppg and 2.0 rpg in the early going, so it might not be a surprise to see Chavis get the start on Tuesday. He has been much more productive in a similar amount of minutes, and could be a stronger factor against West Virginia's bigger front line. Sophomore Dionte Ferguson gets the bulk of the backup minutes up front, and averages 5.0 ppg and 2.3 rebounds per game.
Morehead State is clearly still looking for the combinations that will serve it best during its Ohio Valley Conference league slate, but in the process is building experience for a number of players. With 11 members of the roster averaging more than ten minutes per game, MSU can throw a number of different combinations at opposing teams. The Eagles aren't a strong team inside, but if two or three of their guards play well, they can be a pesky match-up for opponents.
Morehead State can be expected to spread the floor and force WVU to defend from sideline to sideline -- something the Mountaineers didn't do well in early games this year.
With five players capable of knocking down long-range shots, WVU must focus on perimeter defense and not leaving shooters alone, even if the ball is reversed to the other side of the floor. In particular, Hill and Proffitt have to be accounted for, as they will knock down open shots if left alone.
Charleston Civic Center
WVU 2-1, 0-0
Morehead 1-2, 0-0
WVU - 27
Morehead - 110
The Eagles will provide a good test for a defense that is still in the early stages of development, but it's still a match-up the Mountaineers should win. MSU has made just 39.8% of its shots overall, and outside of some decent shooting from beyond the arc, it has struggled to make shots consistently this year. WVU should be able to keep the Eagles from scoring inside, and if it contests shots on the perimeter, doesn't figure to give up more than 60 or so points.
Although the Eagles are better than previous foe Alcorn State, this is still a game the Mountaineers should win. WVU should be able to score inside, and it needs to get more consistency from Deniz Kililci in that area. West Virginia, with its superior height and strength, should dominate in the lane -- and a failure to do so will send another warning signal as to the development of this year's team.
With its deep roster of guards, look for Morehead State to offer a great deal of pressure. The Eagles will try to force the Mountaineers into mistakes in the back court and on the perimeter. The Eagles know that if West Virginia gets its bigs positioned on the blocks, they will have a tough time stopping them, so their best strategy is to extend pressure and go for steals and stops away from the basket.
Shooting figured to be a problem for West Virginia this year, but some of the numbers posted so far are cause for even more concern. The Mountaineers are making just 29.8% of their three-point attempts so far, with Aaron Brown's 4-7 mark leading the way. That might clear the way for a bit more time for Paul Williamson, who hit two of his four tires against Alcorn State.
Also troubling is WVU's 61% free throw mark to date, including an uncharacteristic eight misses by Truck Bryant. There's plenty to suggest he will get back on track, but the Mountaineers also need Deniz Kilicli and Gary Browne to up their marks a bit.
* * *
Like many mid-majors, Morehead State faces the travails of lone early season road trips. The Eagles defeated Asbury College at home on Nov. 17, but won't see the friendly confines of their home court for another game until Dec. 4. Seven of MSU's first eight regular season games are road contests.
* * *
West Virginia is 56-20 all-time at the Charleston Civic Center, including games in both the old arena and the new Coliseum. West Virginia is 64-22 all-time in the capital city.
* * *
Morehead State has improved in each of head coach Donnie Tyndall’s five seasons. The Eagles went 12-
18 (.400) in 2006-07, 15-15 (.500) in 2007-08, 20-16 (.556) in 2008-09, 24-11 (.686) in 2009-10
and 25-10 (.714) in 2010-11. They'll be hard pressed to repeat that feat this year given the gaudy win total of last year, but there's no doubt that Tyndall has elevated the program to heights it has never seen before. Prior to 2009, MSU had topped the 20-win mark just twice in its history.