After a season of few highs and many lows, the Mountaineers miraculously secured a first round bye and because of that, they will face the Huskies. UCONN beat DePaul today 81-67 and they will be looking to continue their run in the tournament. West Virginia cannot let UCONN get a significant lead otherwise they could suffer the same fate as DePaul.
Kevin Jones, fresh off getting robbed Big East Player of the Year, has to lead the charge of scoring and rebounding for the Mountaineers. Jones has been the most consistent player all season and he will need to record a huge double-double game if West Virginia has any hope of winning this game. Truck Bryant has been the streakiest player for the Mountaineers, but recently he has been playing much better and will have to keep this going in order to give Jones some help on offense.
This will be Jabarie Hinds' first Big East Tournament and he can't let that go to his head since the Mountaineers will need him to score and get plenty of assists. Hinds has been another player who has been inconsistent, but he has recorded strong numbers against difficult opponents. When West Virginia faced Notre Dame earlier this season he had 17 points, 4 rebounds, one assist and one steal. If Hinds can have a similar game only with more assists and steals then he can prove that he can be a major contributor.
One factor that will definitely affect the outcome of this game will be the play of the bench. This has been one area that the Mountaineers have struggled in all season. The bench players still haven't proven to Head Coach Bob Huggins that they can come in and contribute to the game positively by playing hard on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. One player that must be productive is junior forward Dominique Rutledge. Rutledge has been decent coming off the bench, but he has to take smarter shots and grab rebounds. Even though he is only averaging 1.7 points per game and 2.2 rebounds per game, he has shown up in games against very tough teams and has put up pretty good numbers.
Another bench player that must step up is freshman guard Gary Browne. Browne is much more consistent than Rutledge and he too has to play well if he wants to give the starters the rest they deserve. He is averaging 6.3 ppg and 3.9 rpg, which is very impressive and Browne needs to exceed those averages if the Mountaineers want to keep the Huskies on their toes.
UCONN is stacked with great talent and the Mountaineers will need to keep their heads on a swivel in order to make sure they don't give up any easy baskets. Today against DePaul the Huskies were 8-13 from three point range, the Mountaineers cannot allow them to have a repeat performance like this. The defense has to make them take shots they are not comfortable with and contest everything that is put up.
One player West Virginia cannot leave alone is sophomore guard-forward Jeremy Lamb. Lamb had a monster game today, dropping 25 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and recording 4 assists. In fact the last time these two teams played he had 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. This is one player the Mountaineers have to play tough, physical defense on. Another player West Virginia has to keep under control is sophomore guard Shabazz Napier. Napier is averaging 12.4 ppg and 3.7 rpg, against DePaul he had; 5 points, one rebound and 6 assists. The last time Napier played the Mountaineers, they did not allow him to score or get an assist; he did have 8 rebounds and one steal. If West Virginia can shut him down like they did earlier this season then it should increase their chances of winning.
West Virginia will look to avenge the loss they received earlier this year from UCONN in a big way. The Mountaineers have also locked up a spot in the NCAA Tournament, so even if they lose it won’t hurt their chances.
Prediction: WVU-68 UCONN-75
WVU Player of the Game: Kevin Jones 22 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists
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