Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Fordham Rams

Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Fordham Rams


Fordham can’t be counted on to shoot as poorly as Coppin State did on Wednesday, so West Virginia has to dress up its own offense some in order to avoid an upset bid by the Rams.

SCOUTING THE RAMS

Fordham has had a couple of close losses on the way to its current 5-6 record. The Rams rely on senior swingman Will Tavares (6-6, 205 lbs.) who tops the team in scoring (16.6 per game)  and is third in rebounding at 5.6. He’s supported by 6-10 Czechoslovakina Prokop Slanina, who chips in with 12.8 points on 52.4% shooting from the field, and 6-3 guard Joseph Chartouny, with 10.8 points and 6.5 boards per game. That’s a solid trio, but after that efficiency and productivity drop off appreciably. The Rams are better than Coppin State from the field, but are still making just 41% as a team, including a bad 27.7% from 3-point distance.That leads to a team scoring average of less than 65 per contest.

Fordham has been very good protecting and handling the ball, and should provide a test for West Virginia’s pressure. The Rams have committed ony 12.4 turnovers per game, and have a 2-1 advantage in steals. That advantage is built largely on the abilities of Chartouny, who has 41 thefts — the same total as WVU’s Jevon Carter. The battle between he and West Virginia’s Jevon Carter should be an interesting one.

Head coach Jeff Neubauer, a former WVU assistant under John Beilein, has shown the ability to get wins at Fordham, and at his prior stop at Eastern Kentucky, in different manners. He used the patterned play sets of his mentor during early days, but also amped up Fordham’s defense to make them more competitive when shots, especially 3-pointers, weren’t falling. That has been something of a struggle this year too, but Fordham doesn’t look anything like the Richmond or Eastern Kentucky teams that Neubauer coached earlier in his career.

This is the second time Neubauer has travelled back to West Virginia. On Dec. 30, 2012,he brought his Eastern Kentucky team to the Coliseum, with WVU winning 74-67.

GAME OUTLOOK

Fordham is much better than Coppin State. If WVU comes out and shoots as it did in the first half against the Eagles, the Rams can cause trouble.

WVU (10-1) vs. FU (5-6) Sat Dec 13 12:00 PM EST
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: WVU 2-0
RPI: WVU – 24 FU- 294 TV: AT&T Sportsnet Sirius/XM: 138 / 199
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That shouldn’t happen though, if WVU is paying attention. It was clear that Coppin State didn’t have WVU’s focus, and when shots started bouncing out, it clearly got in the heads of some of the Mountaineers. Chase Harler, among others, noted that misses can spread and get into the consciousness of players at times, and that too was a feature of the CSU game. It’s unlikely that will happen two games in a row, so the spotlight turns elsewhere in this game.

On the individual front. Sagaba Konate is at the point where his career can turn one of two ways. He can master his emotions and become a strong, and perhaps dominant, force, or he can continue to allow officials calls and actions of opponents to frustrate him and take him out of games. The latter was on ugly display against Coppin State, and that simply can’t continue. He was lucky to escape his double-elbow swinging escapade with only a Flagrant 1 foul, rather than the Flagrant 2 (and attendant ejection) that it probably should have been. Every personal foul is gold for a player of Konate’s strength and aggressiveness, and he simply cant waste them in this manner. Worse, when his emotions overtake him, he becomes a non-contributor in other areas of the game, and the loss of productivity there is just as bad as if he were sitting on the bench.

West Virginia’s halfcourt offense is also still an item of large concern. The Mountaineers have been trying to get more from the offense in the halfcourt than Jevon Carter drives and 3-point hoists, so an eye on that aspect of the game continues to be important. What kind of shots does WVU get when it can’t get out in transition? Are the shots contested, or are they open, step in looks or good drives? Can the development of the post game, often employing Teddy Allen, continue to grow? A good item to track is this one — how many points and good shots does WVU get in transtition or early in the shot clock, as opposed to after 2-3 passes or movement of the ball in some of its sets? While early opportunity shots are never a bad thing, the Mountaineers need to lessen the difference between those two types of offense.


PRESS POINTS

The tour of coaching connections between WVU and its out of conference opponents continues with Neubauer, as described above, and also with Rodney Crawford. As a collegiate player, Crawford played in 49 career games for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati  from 2000-02. The Bearcats went 56-14 in his two seasons with back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. The 2001-02 UC team finished 31-4 overall and ranked No. 5 nationally by The Associated Press.

Crawford was also the head coach and director of student operations at Mountain State Academy, in Beckley, W. Va. The Falcons posted a 22-4 record in 2009-10 and finished the season ranked No. 17 nationally in USA Today’s Super 25.

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While WVU’s non-conference schedule gets criticized by some, but its out of conference SOS schedule stands at 105th nationally, according to one independent RPI calculation. That will dip a bit again with the Fordham game, but the match-up with Kentucky will provide a boost. WVU’s RPI did dip to 24 after beating Coppin State, but the looming Big 12 schedule will provide numerous chances to push that back up, even though 24 is a no-brainer for NCAA selection, given a respectable number of wins.

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With a win, WVU head coach Bob Huggins will tie Jim Phelan for seventh place all-time on the NCAA Division I winningest coaches list.
Huggins’ record now stands at 829-331 in his 36th season as a head coach. It will be a couple of years until Huggins’ can move higher — Jim Calhoun has 873 wins and Adolph Rupp 876.

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 WVU is riding a 10-game winning streak — its longest since the 2010 Final Four season. Given the Mountaineers’ great success over the past decade, it’s a bit surprising that the current streak ranks among the best in recent history. West Virginia also had an 11-game winning streak that season, which it can tie with a victory over the Rams.