SCOUTING THE HIGHLANDERS
Radford's team is dominated by underclassmen. With just one senior and one junior on the roster, the Highlanders have been looking for continuity and leadership in 2012, and that has been borne out in their results to date. They alternated losses and wins in their first six games before fashining a three-game winning streak, but have since dropped decisions to Delaware, William & Mary and Charlotte. Among the youngsters fighting for more consistency is guard Kyle Noreen, the younger brother of WVU's Kevin.
Radford's lineup has been in a bit of flux over the past few games. In the backcourt, R. J. Price (Soph., 6-0) missed the Highlanders' most recent game with an ankle injury, and his starting status for this game is in question. He's been a aolid performer, averaging 13.1 points per game, with two-thirds of those scores coming on three-pointers. He also averages a team-best 2.4 assists per outing. If Price is limited, backup Rashun Davis (Fr., 6-0) is expected to take up the slack. He's an iffy scorer whose shooting accuracy is suspect (30.6% from the field), and his ballhandling is not to the level of Price's level either. Senior Blake Smith (6-4) is the opposite starter at shooting guard, but he scored just more than five points per game in 22 minutes of action. Ya Ya Anderson (Fr., 6-2) is also getting plenty of run at guard, and he's been the most productive scorer and rebounder, averaging 9.4 points and 2.8 boards per game.
The shuffling could continue in the front court, where forward\swingman Kyle Noreen (Soph., 6-5) has ten starts but didn't fill that role in RU's last game. He's averaging 4.4 points per game, but is struggling a bit from the field, hitting just 36.4% of his shots. He still figures to get major minutes, but could cede his starting spot to Jalen Carethers (Soph., 6-8), who is shooting a bit better and provides more length. Noreen, however, is protecting the ball better, having suffered just seven turnovers while recording 14 steals and dealing out 18 assists. He's also a solid rebounder, grabbing 25 of his 53 boards on the offensive end.
The big dog up front is Javonte Green (Soph., 6-4) who averages 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. He's far and away RU's best shooter, hitting 55% of his tries from the field, and he doesn't force shots outside of the offense. Kion Brown (Fr., 6-8) has started half of Radford's games, and averages 7.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in just under 20 minutes of action per contest. Brandon Holcomb (Fr., 6-7), who was an early-season starter before moving to a backup role, chips in 3.1 points and 2.0 rebound per game. He's also the best shotblocker on the team, having recorded 10 while playing fewer than 14 minutes per contest.
This is a game that West Virginia should control and win easily, so the things to watch here are items that that Mountaineers must improve upon if they are going to make a run at postseason play.
First, WVU must find combinations of players that work well together. In the past two games, those have included smaller lineups, but its still hard to tell whether that was due to the match-up provided by opponents or synergy among the WVU players on the court. Head coach Bob Huggins always likes to "keep something in his pocket" -- his way of saying that he wants to have scoring and defensive punch available off the bench -- but if WVU continues to struggle and fall behind early, he may have no choice but to play the most effective lineups right off the bat. Huggins' approach certainly makes sense, but is West Virginia deep enough to do that?
WVU 5-5, 0-0
Radford 5-6, 0-0
WVU - 110
Radford - 287
Keep an eye on minutes played in this game, and also in next week's contest against Eastern Kentucky. That could give a clue as to how the Mountaineers are going to approach the Big 12 season, which tips off in January against Oklahoma. Can WVU go small against some of the more athletic teams on its schedule? Can freshmen Eron Harris and Terry Henderson help rebound against taller, more physically mature foes? Can West Virginia win with a predominantly three-guard offense? Watch this game for those alignments, and see how effective they are against more conventional rotations.
West Virginia defensive rebounding continues to be a concern, and it needs to be shored up quickly. The Mountaineers are yielding far too many second (and third) chances to opponents, and must limit those in order to magnify their own offensive rebounding efforts. Radford has been good on its own glass so far this year, but if WVU should be able to dominate the Highlanders in this play phase. If it can't, it will be back to the drawing board with Big 12 league play just two weeks away.
Watch West Virginia's players when Radford puts shots up. When playing man-to-man, is each Mountaineer boxing out their assigned Highlander? Are offensive rebounds yielded because a defender gets beaten on a drive and a gap is created when another defender has to slide over to help, and no one else rotates to clean up the lane? These sorts of fundamentals have plagued WVU so far this year, and they must be corrected.
Radford has not won a game played in the month of December in almost three seasons. The Highlanders' last victory in the year's final month came on Dec. 30, 2009, when they recorded an 80-53 victory over George Mason.
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Juwan Staten is the only Mountaineer averaging in double figures in points (10.8 per game). The last season in which just one West Virginia player averaged double figures was 1949-50, when Mark Workman scored a bit more tha 11 points per contest.
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RU's Javonte Green is also excellent defensively, topping the Big South Conference with 2.5 steals per game.
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Radford head coach Mike Jones was an assistant at WVU on John Beilein’s staff in 2002-03. He's in his second season at Radford.