SCOUTING THE BEARS
WVU faces yet another foe with a first-year head coach. Paul Lusk got his team off to a great start with four consecutive wins, but then dropped three in a row before bouncing back with three consecutive wins to forge their current 7-3 record.
Unlike some recent Mountaineer foes, Missouri State features balanced scoring across its lineup. Forward Kyle Weems, the Missouri Valley Conference Preseason Player of the Year, leads the team with averages of 14.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. His scoring does come at the expense of a high number of shots, as he is hitting under 40% of his attempts from the field. Center Caleb Patterson (6-11) supports Weems in the scoring column with 12.9 ppg, but averages just 3.6 rebounds per outing despite his size. He's an excellent free throw shooter, making 82.8% of his tries, so West Virginia will need to be disciplined when he gets the ball. Isaiah Rhine is the sole true frontcourt sube with appreciable minutes. He averages 3.0 ppg and 1.9 rpg while exhibiting physical play inside. He has committed 28 fouls while playing just 10.4 minutes per contest.
The Bears have no fewer than seven players filling roles at the guard and swing forward positions. Starter Jamar Gulley and backup Anthony Downing lead the pack in scoring with 9.9 ppg averages each. Gulley gets good shots, many of them from close range, while Downing capitalizes on the three-pointer for much of his scoring. Former DePaul guard Michael Bizoukas, a thorn in the side of WVU in previous seasons, is playing a post-graduate year for the Bears, and has moved into a playmaker role. He holds an excellent 3.1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and also chips in 5.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Nathan Scheer holds down the final starting spot, but isn't quite as productive, scoring just 3.4 ppg.
Off the bench, Lusk can call on players such as Corey Copeland, a 6-5 sophomore who understands his role well. Copeland has just one turnover in 111 minutes this year. Keith Pickens, another sophomore swingman, averages 3.8 points per outing, but has missed the Bears' last two games with injuries. He's a solid defender and has previous starting experience, but his durability has been a problem. He missed all of last year with a knee injury, and also missed the first two exhibition games of this year. More recently, he sat out MSU's last two games with further hurts, so his status for the WVU game is in question.
While Missouri State doesn't shoot lights out, the Bears will be on the firing range from all angles, which means the Mountaineer defense will have to defend all parts of the floor on the offensive end.
WVU 8-2, 0-0
MSU 7-3, 0-0
WVU - 46
MSU - 103
This, in turn, puts more pressure on WVU's defenders when they are on the ball. MSU will drive, try to draw help defenders, then kick the ball to an open shooter on the perimeter, but the key in this is for the driver to get past the initial defender. WVU's point guards have been average at best in this play phase in recent games, and simply must do better in staying in front of their opponents on penetration attempts.
On the offensive end, the Mountaineers must continue to get the ball inside, preferably early. The match-up of Deniz Kilicli and Patterson figures to be a good one, with both big men owning good offensive capabilities. Patterson will have to figure out how to contend with Kilicli's grenade-launched hooks, while Kilicli will have to defend Patterson out to the three point line, where the Bear has made nine of his 22 tries. If that's a standoff, WVU should have the edge with Kevin Jones, who doesn't appear to have a Bear defender that can match his height and savvy. MSU might have to rely on a zone to keep Jones from dominating individual match-ups.
Consistency continues to be the goal for WVU overall. It has stretches where the offense executes flawlessly and the defense stifles opponents, then turn around and struggle to get a good shot or keep opponents away from the rim. Those sorts of ups and downs are to be expected with a young team, but there aren't any cupcakes left on the schedule. MSU averages just 10.6 turnovers per game and allows opponents to make fewer than 37% of their shots, so the Bears can't be expected to give the game away. West Virginia will have to play a very good overall game in order to come away with Bob Huggins' 700th career victory.
WVU and Missouri State have two common opponents. The Mountaineers defeated both Oral Roberts and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, while the Bears split, losing to the Golden Eagles and defeating the Islanders.
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West Virginia is making 48.5% of its shots from the field, while Missouri State has held all tne of their foes under the 43% mark. If there's one game stat that will determine the outcome, this one will be the one to watch.
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Missouri State's coaching staff of head coach Paul Lusk and assistants Steve Woodberry, Pat Baldwin and Kyle Smithpeters rank No. 11 among all Division I coaching staffs for most points produced as players (3,646). Ironically, the Tennessee staff that now consists of former MSU head coach Cuonzo Martin and previous Bears assistants Jon Harris and Kent Willams is the top-scoring Division I staff.
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While WVU head coach Bob Huggins enters the game looking for his 700th career win, MSU coach Paul Lusk will be trying to break into double digits in his personal win column. He has seven wins at Missouri State, and was 2-23 in his only other head coaching stint, a one-year tenure at Division III Dubuque.