SCOUTING THE TIGERS
Mizzou is dominant at home, where it is currently riding winning streaks of 22 overall (the longest active streak in the nation) and an impressive 77 against non-conference opposition. Missouri is also 88-4 in its last 92 games at Mizzou Arena. All that adds up to a 7-0 record for the Tigers, and a very tall task for the visiting Mountaineers.
Like WVU, Missouri rides its backcourt and perimeter players for much of its offense. Jordan Clarkson (G, Jr., 6-5) and Jabari Brown (G, Jr., 6-5) are each averaging more than 19 points per game. Clarkson also sets the table with 3.4 assists per outing, while Brown, more thickly built, hits the boards for almost six per contest. Third guard Earnest Ross (G, Sr., 6-5) provides even more veteran experience, and averages 13.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest. Brown is by far the most proficient of Mizzou's three-point shooters, hitting 21 so far this year for an average of 46.7% from beyond the arc.
Backups outside included Wes Clark (G, Fr., 6-1), who averages more than 20 minutes per game and is a solid, if selective, shooter. He's 6-12 from three, and can't be allowed to get his feet set or take open looks, although he's unlikely to create shots for himself.
On the inside, freshman Johnathan Williams (F, 6-9) has been productive from the start, averaging 7.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Sophomore Ryan Rosburg (F, 6-10) contributes 6.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest. Senior Tony Criswell (F, 6-9), after not playing in the team's first two games, has seen 15 minutes of action in the Tigers' most recent two contests, and has been a solid contributor on the boards, grabbing five in those two wins and 23 overall this year. His playing time was boosted after
fellow forward Stefan Jankovic left the team and announced his decision to transfer. Jankovic was a teammate of WVU's Elijah Macon at Huntington Prep Academy in 2011-12.
While Missouri's competition to date might not be the greatest, there's no arguinig with the results. Shooting 50% from the field against anyone is a serious accomplishment, and the Tigers have also dominated foes on the boards, holding a +11 margin in that statistical category. Mizzou has been a bit loose with the ball, and has more turnovers than assists on the season, but has compensated with its excellent shooting and shot selection.
WVU has played a true road game this year, so it has a bit of an idea of facing adversity there and what it takes to win away from home. However, the Mountaineers are facing a much better opponent than the Hokies in this contest.
With outside and perimeter scoring an integral part of both teams, the emphasis in this game might shift to defense. Which squad can contain, or at least limit, the strengths of its foes?
7:00 PM E
WVU 6-2, 0-0
MU 7-0, 0-0
WVU - 100
UM - 61
For WVU to hold down the Tigers' scoring trio, it will need to get consistent defensive efforts from Juwan Staten, Gary Browne, Eron Harris and Terry Henderson. Staten has improved defensively this year, but he'll face a tough challenge in Mizzou's guards, all of whom stand 6-5. Browne, in his stints, will have to keep Clarkson out of the lane. Harris and Henderson are both better equipped from a height and length standpoint to check Brown and Ross, but both have been subject to lapses when their offensive games aren't clicking. Consistency is the key here -- every trip has to be played with intensity and awareness. If WVU loses track of these players on the offensive end, it will pay the price on the scoreboard.
If West Virginia goes out of its man-to-man, watch for occasional jumps into the halfcourt trap that has shown promise this year. As the Tigers have shown the tendency to give the ball away (the top four guards have combined for 57 turnovers), WVU will likely test them at times to see if it can generate some quick offense with steals on the perimeter. It is also likely to show the point drop defense for stretches, especially at times when either Brown or Clark, Mizzou's two best three-point shooters, are on the bench.
Those are somewhat smallish cracks to exploit, though. WVU will have to combine the shooting it has displayed for most of the year, the effort it showed on the boards against Loyola, and the excellent passing and decision-making that have been evident all season to pull off an upset in one of the toughest road venues in the country.
With a win in this game, WVU head coach Bob Huggins would take sole possession of 16th place on the list of all-time winningest Division I men's coaches. His next victory, whcih will be his 730th, will break a tie with Jerry Tarkanian and long-time Missouri coach Norm Stewart.
Up next in his sights are John Chaney (741) and Phog Allen (746).
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WVU has faced Missouri twice previously, wiith both games coming in the NCAA tournament. in 1992, West Virginia was playing well when the lights went out on two different occasions at the Greensboro Arena, interrupting the game and seemingly sapping WVU of momentum. At both junctures, WVU was leading, but Mizzou used the down time to regroup, rally and knock West Virginia out of the tournament. The Mountaineers avenged that Big Dance loss with a win over the Tigers in Buffalo in the 2010 tournament.
In addition to breaking the series record tie, one of the coaches will also take a first-ever blemish. Bob Huggins is 3-0 all-time vs. Mizzou, while Tiger head coach Frank Haith is 1-0 against the Mountaineers.
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Although Missouri has averaged more than 11,000 fans per home game in each of its last three seasons, it has recorded an average of only 6,881 in its four home games to date. It did attract more than 13,000 for a "netural" site game against Hawaii at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, however, so it won't be a surprise to see a crowd of that size in the 15,000 seat Mizzou Arena for this contest.
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Five Mountaineers scored in double figures against Loyola, including Remi Dibo (19), Terry Henderson (16), Eron Harris (14), Kevin Noreen (13) and Nathan Adrian (11). Following that contest, WVU now features four players (Harris, Staten, Dibo and Williams) averaging more than 10 points per game, with a fifth, Terry Henderson, hovering nearby at nine points per outing.