SCOUTING THE HOKIES
Tech certainly didn't plan a start to the season like this. Before things even got underway, the Hokies learned that freshman Malik Mueller would be academically ineligible this season. Then a week ago, head coach James Johnson suspended forward C.J. Barksdale for three games for a violation of team rules. The three game total is 10% of Tech's regular season schedule. Finally, there was the loss to the Spartans in a game that was tightly contested throughout.
The Hokies will try to bounce back from that loss with the same lineup that started the opener. A three-forward set of Marshall Wood (So., 6-8), Cadarian Raines (Sr., 6-9) and Jarell Eddie (Sr., 6-3) isn't overly big, but does provide some socring punch. Raines and Eddie combined for 35 points and 11 rebounds agains SCU, but Wood was quiet in his 21 minutes, scoring just three points and grabbing only three rebounds. Guards Devin Wilson (Fr., 6-4) and Adam Smith (So., 6-1) are both newcomers to the program, and were a bit shaky in the opener, combining for just 11 points while committing four turnovers. The hope from the Hokie camp is that they are now past first game jitters and will settle into more steady production.
Off the bench, forward Joey van Zegeren saw 22 minutes of action, and was a force inside, gathering seven rebounds and blocking five shots. At times, he'll team with Raines and Wood to give Tech more size on the front line.
Tech is still trying to rebuild under Johnson, who is in his second season at the school. The program was hampered by a steady stream of hirings and departures among its assistant coaches under Seth Greenberg, who was unceremoniously fired following the 2012 season. This season, Tech has four freshmen and a transfer newcomer on the roster, and is trying to find the right mix of those players in time for conference competition. In that regard, they are much like WVU, which also totally revamped its roster, but Tech has more players to work with as it seeks to define its team.
Defensive match-ups and rebounding are keys in this early-season encounter, and should play large parts in the outcome.
WVU had trouble defending Mount St. Mary's on the perimeter in its season-opening win. That was due, in large part, to the lineups that West Virginia was forced to employ. Without Terry Henderson, who was sidelined by a shin inflammation, WVU had to put a big forward on one of the MSM guards for much of the game, and those defenders had a tough time staying with their quicker opponents. That could still be an issue in this game, as Tech's three forwards include a short 6-3 Jarell Eddie. The Mountaineers' hopes to counter that smaller lineup are both trying to recover from injuries. Henderson has had a very limited amount of practice time, and Gary Browne was clearly hampered by a thigh problem in the MSM game.
1:00 PM E
WVU 1-0, 0-0
VT 0-1, 0-0
WVU - 74
VT - 312
If neither of those are available, forwards such as Nathan Adrian and Devin Williams will have to defend away from the hoop on occasion, as will substitute Remi Dibo, who figures to get more time in this contest.
If West Virginia can't put a smaller ineup on the court, it will need to press its advantage in height on the boards. Neither WVU nor Tech rebounded well in their openers, with the Mountaineers losing the battle by two and the Hokies earning only a draw with the Spartans. Although they will get drawn away from the basket at times, Williams, Dibo and Adrian have to get back into the paint defensively to rebound the ball. That is a new skill that they'll have to master quickly, and this game is the perfect situation to work on it. Dibo showed some promise here, grabbing five boards in just 12 minutes of time against Mount St. Mary's, and Williams' mindset of getting to the glass should help him, but all three newcomers can't be expected to be proficient at it immediately. Their progress over the past couple of days, however, will be critical in this contest.
One other thing to watch is the intensity of this game. This is just the second meeting between the two border foes in the last decade, and there are a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball. Will that help keep temperatures lower -- at least, below the boiling points of the fan bases, which are always ready to pop? Or will the names on the front of the jerseys key up the holdovers and local products on the rosters, both of which are well familiar with the animosity between the two schools?
With the early start time, the team that comes out the most ready to play could have a big advantage in the game, and building a quick lead could allow one to take control of the contest.
Brandon Watkins wasn't expected to be much more than a role player at best this year. In fact, he was considered to be a candidate for a redshirt. However, he recorded ten points on 5-7 shooting from the field in WVU's season-opening win, including a smooth 15-foot jumper from the baseline. He also grabbed four rebounds and dished out an assist, and seemed more comfortable on the floor that the average freshman.
"I've worked [on that shot] over the summer," Watkins told BlueGoldNews.com after the win. "That's one of the things I knew I had to improve on."
No one should expect Watkins to hold on to a double-digit scoring average throughout the season. However, if he can get a couple of sxores off rebounds and provide shot blocking and board help on defense, he will fill a role that's desperately needed for this year's WVU team.
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Tech is taking a Syracuse-like path with its schedule this year. VT will not play a non-conference road game this year, and will only venture away from home once before league play begins. That trip will included two neutral site games at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Tech only plays one true road game before Jan. 19.
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West Virginia's Eron Harris led the Mountaineers in scoring a year ago, averaging 9.8 points per game. Harris was the first Mountaineer freshman to lead the team in scoring since Warren Baker turned the trick in the 1972-73 season. Wonderful Warren averaged 16.6 points per outing that year, kickstarting his Hall of Fame career at WVU.
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WVU is 78-51 all-time in the state of Virginia. The last time it played a game in the Old Dominion was in 2007, when it defeated Radford 90-60.