Preview: WVU-Jacksonville State
West Virginia’s roster and player availability situation remains in flux as the Mountaineers prepare to host the Gamecocks of Jacksonville State Saturday afternoon. That’s just another on the list of items that WVU head coach Bob Huggins has to address as his team tries to claw out of the deep hole it has dug for itself in the early going of the 2018-19 season.
Standing at 6-4, and showing few signs of offensive continuity, WVU is already in dire straits in terms of positioning itself for an NCAA Tournament berth. While the entire Big 12 schedule remains, the Mountaineers are currently tied for eighth in the league in overall record, and would appear to be decided underdogs against the seven schools above them.
Any improvement will begin with a single step, though, and that would need to come against JSU, which is on a bit of an upward tick following an emotional home win over North Alabama. That was the Gamecocks’ first home game since a tornado tore through campus on March 19.
West Virginia, while not suffering such a disaster, has been blown about while trying to find lineup combinations that can pass and share the ball effectively. It has added one player to the active roster, as freshman forward Derek Culver has been restored to that status following a pair of suspensions that have kept him out the entire season, but he’s not necessarily a replacement for Sagaba Konate, who missed his second game of the season against Rhode Island, and continues to miss practices as well, with a knee injury.
“I don’t know. We’ll have to see how it goes,” Huggins said of the potential for Culver to play against JSU. “Our problem hasn’t been Logan Routt or Drew Gordon. Drew fouls too much and we have to stop that, but both of those guys have been solid. That’s not our problem.”
“He can pass well out of the block, and he can score on the block as well,” teammate Beetle Bolden said of Culver. “He’s another piece we can use.”
Huggins also had no definitive word on Konate, other than to reinforce his “no practice, no play” standard.
“He has to practice,” Huggins said. “We can’t play him if he hasn’t practiced, not that he’s been ready to play anyway. Until he gets back in practice and does what everybody else does there’s absolutely no reason to put him in the game.”
|WVU (6-4) vs. Jacksonville St (7-4)||Date: Sat Dec 22||Time: 12:00 PM ET|
|Venue: WVU Coliseum||Loc: Morgantown, WV||Series: 1st Meeting|
|NET: WVU – 126 JSU – 160||TV: ATTSN||Last: N/A|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
Opposing West Virginia’s shifting lineup, the Gamecocks will put up a balanced attack, with six players averaging between nine and 14 points per game. Senior forward Jason Burnell (6-7, 220 lbs.) will test the defensive efforts of WVU’s threes and fours. He averages 14.4 points and 8.4 rebounds to lead the team in both categories. He can step out and hit threes (38%) and is deadly from the free throw line, where he has made 46-55 on the season.
Fellow senior Marlon Hunter (6-3, 195 lbs.) complements Burnell from the backcourt with 11.1 points per outing, and is part of a corps of nine Gamecocks who average at least ten minutes per game. One of those, Detrick Mostella, has not played in the Gaemcocks’ last three contests.
JSU does try to push the ball and speed up the game on both ends of the court, which will test WVU’s ballhandling and ability to get back on defense. Both of those parts of the game have been average to poor for the Mountaineers this year. While the Gamecocks themselves are not quite at the even mark in assist to turnover ratio (143-149) they have forced 49 more turnovers than they have yielded assists through 11 games.
Like West Virginia’s last opponent, Rhode Island, Jacksonville State does not shoot the ball well from distance. JSU makes just 28 percent of its three-point attempts, and outside Burnell and guard Ty Hudson, don’t show many threats that can make enough shots from behind the arc to hurt. WVU wasn’t able to take advantage of that deficiency against the Rams, though, and could not stop them from dishing out abuse close to the basket, where they scored 44 points.
JSU center Maros Zeliznak, a native of Slovakia, played his prep basketball at the appropriately named Get Better Academy in Prague.
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Jacksonville’s 64-50 home win over North Alabama was an emotional one for the program. It was their first game inside Pete Matthews Coliseum since a tornado ripped through campus on March 19. That caused extensive damage to many buildings on the JSU campus, including roof and flooding problems at the basketball venue. The win was also the program’s 450th all-time win at “The Pete” and head coach Ray Harper’s 50th win at Jacksonville State.
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WVU’s Esa Ahmad is shooting 53.5% on his 2-point attempts, and 19.2% on his 3-point tries.
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James Haring, a former head manager at WVU from 2010-14, serves as Coordinator of Basketball Operations at Jacksonville State, where he oversees team travel, budgeting, daily scheduling and equipment needs. Prior to that, he was at the University of Illinois for a total of three years as a graduate assistant and then the director of basketball operations.