WVU – Rhode Island Preview
West Virginia comes off a week-long break as it travels to Connecticut for a rare Sunday match-up with Rhode Island in the Air Force Reserve Holiday Showcase. The Rams, like previous WVU victim Pitt, have several freshmen newcomers in the lineup, but don’t depend on them as heavily as the Panthers did. Still, it’s been a fight at times to get them assimilated.
“We lost five seniors from last year, so it’s a completely different team,” Rhode Island head coach David Cox said. “We have four freshmen playing in our rotation. It’s daily and weekly growth for our team.”
|WVU (6-3) vs. Rhode Island (4-3)||Date: Sun Dec 16||Time: 1:00 PM ET|
|Venue: Mohegan Sun Casino||Loc: Uncasville, CT||Series: WVU 20-12|
|NET: WVU – 101 URI – 122||TV: CBSSN||Last: WVU 79-72 (2004)|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
Both head coaches have participated in the game in the past, and Cox sees it as offering some hometown advantages.
“I am really excited about it,” he said of the casino venue, which lies some 40 minutes west of the URI campus. “We haven’t been back to the Mohegan Sun for a couple of years, since we played against Duke. It’s an awesome environment, and we had a lot of fans come down.”
While officially a neutral site, the Rams will likely enjoy a decent fan advantage, which would be the first WVU has faced this year. Although this will be the fifth game the Mountaineers have played away from home, all have been at neutral venues.
For Huggins, the anti-turnover training continued this week while West Virginia conducted finals. Tests meant that a player missed a practice session here and there, but the hope is that another concentrated week’s work will help the Mountaineers begin to cut into their giveaway total.
Huggins repeated the same line during two different interview sessions, noting “We’re trying to get them to throw it to the guys with the same color shirt on and keep it between the black lines. We will keep working at it.”
On a bit more of a positive note, he related that he sees some progress in another trouble spot.
“We’re getting better defensively. We were not very good early, but with each practice and game we are getting better. Out intensity against Pitt was the best it has been. The young guys are learning. The more games we play and the more practices we get in the better we get.”
West Virginia’s press, dormant during most of the season, reemerged in the win over the Panthers. Is that a harbinger of things to come, or was the success more due to the inexperience in the Pitt backcourt? The answer may come against the Rams, who have some veterans to lean on, including starting guards Jeff Downtin (Jr. , 6-3, 180 lbs.), Christian Thompson (Jr., 6-4, 190 lbs.) and Fatts Russell (5-10, 165 lbs.) , who have combined for 56 assists against 30 turnovers. Overall, URI is suffering just 12.2 turnovers per contest.
Downtin (16.6 points per game), Russell (12.4) and forward Cyril Langevine (15.7) pace the URI offense, which has had trouble scoring points for much of the year. The Rams are just a tick under the 40% field goal percentage mark, and are making just 20.3% of their 3-point attempts.
Langevine is by far and away the dominant rebounder, grabbing 11.3 per contest. It’s Downtin, though, that makes the team go.
“Jeff is a leader on and off the court,” Cox said. Even with a senior-laden team last year, he was on the floor more minutes than anyone else.”
That’s playing out again this season, as Downtin is putting in ironman stints, averaging 35 minutes per game.
With the offense struggling to find consistency, Cox is leaning on the defense to keep him in games.
“We are much further ahead on defense than our offensive game,” he admitted. “Defense has been a part of this program under Danny Hurley’s leadership the last four or five years. I’ve made it a point to continue that.”
WVU and Rhode Island stand eight and ninth nationally, respectively, in offensive rebounding. The Mountaineers are averaging 14.89 retrievals per game, while Rams are just behind at 14.86.
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Up until 2002, Rhode Island played its home games in Keaney Gym, named for longtime head coach and Naismith Hall of Fame member Frank W. Keaney. He is credited with originating the fast break, which he used to offset the superior size of many opponents, and also came up with a new shade of blue, dubbed “Keaney Blue” which became one of the Rams’ official colors. His record at URI was 401-124.
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WVU has played fewer games on Sunday than any other day of the week, but perhaps it should schedule more. The Mountaineers are 66-36 on that day, good for a 64.7% winning mark.
The next most successful day for a game is Friday, where WVU is 165-92 (64.2%).
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QUOTABLE: “Our leadership is by committee. I don’t think we have one particular guy. I think we have some guys who will step up at different parts in the game, and maybe that’s better.” — WVU head coach Bob Huggins