I hear it's been mostly cloudy and humid in Cancun this week. Good. Let's keep 'em focused down there, right?
It worked last night, as Wisconsin survived some sloppy play against Saint Louis to move to 7-0 for the first time under Bo Ryan, which is a pretty remarkable little stat. The Badgers now face off against West Virginia (5-1) for the 2013 Cancun Challenge title.
And Wednesday brings a little more pre-game trivia: between Ryan (681) and WVU's Bob Huggins (728), the two head coaches have combined for 1,409 career victories. Both coaches preach defense, albeit of different varieties. Huggins usually likes his teams to play pressure defense and push the ball, though his talented backcourt has earned high marks offensively thus far. Conversely, as we know, Ryan has let the Badgers run a bit more this season, but still preaches his foul-averse, half-court, help defense philosophy.
Joining us to answer a few questions about tonight's title bout is WVUIE97, the boss man over at The Smoking Musket. Just as this isn't your father's Badger team, you might learn some things you didn't expect to hear about a Bob Huggins team.
B5Q: Bob Huggins typically fields feisty, defensive-minded teams. In typical Huggy Bear fashion, West Virginia pushes tempo (71.9 possessions/gm) with a nine-man rotation, but the offense also seems to be pretty decent. Despite pushing tempo, the Mountaineers are taking care of the ball with Badger-like precision (19th lowest turnover percentage in the country right now). Does this WVU squad appear most comfortable in that run-and-pressure style?
The Smoking Musket: With the smaller roster, we do have a quickness about this team that we haven't really seen with Huggins until now. Even the Final Four team wasn't this quick. The roster has always seemed to have a big guy or two (especially the last couple of seasons) that had trouble getting down the floor fast enough. This team does seem to embrace the pace at which they're playing at now. If we can adjust to the new foul rules, this team could make some noise.
B5Q: Some Badger fans will remember the name Eron Harris because two summers ago he seemed locked and loaded to join Sam Dekker as a late add to Wisconsin's 2012 recruiting class. But according to Harris, UW rescinded its scholarship offer, leading him to eventually sign with WVU.
Harris led the team in scoring last season as a freshman, yet has really blossomed this year. He leads the Big 12 in scoring at 20.2 ppg and I'm guessing he's looking forward to this game. Tell us a bit about Harris' development and what kind of threat he is on both ends of the court.
TSM: Harris and his classmate Terry Henderson were the ONLY bright spots on this team last year, but they were freshman. A full offseason in the workout program has definitely made them better, both in physical development and mental. They both understand that they will be counted on greatly if this team is to succeed. Harris may have the better all-around game at this point. He can score from anywhere on the floor, be it long range 3's, mid-range jumpers or driving to the rim. On the defensive end, he has shown a tenacity and makes life rough on the guys he's guarding (we wouldn't expect less from a Huggins-coached team).
B5Q: Alongside Harris is another high-scoring guard, former Dayton Flyer Juwan Staten. Is it safe to say Staten, at point guard, is the most valuable player on the team?
TSM: Absolutely. The Staten we're seeing play now is the one we'd hoped we were getting last season (he was rooming with the resident roster cancer last season, FWIW). He is the undisputed leader on this team thus far. Being a junior on a team completely devoid of seniors also contributes to that, but his play has been a revelation for WVU fans. Scoring, dishing assists and RUNNING THE OFFENSE is something that has been missing on this team for a long time, perhaps back to the Joe Mazzulla days.
B5Q: West Virginia hit a brutal bit of schedule to end last season, falling off the bubble with a seven-game losing streak to end the year. Since then, WVU shed a couple of bad fits from the roster (Aaric Murray, Jabarie Hinds) and graduated a few other contributors (personally, I do miss the imposing Deniz Kilicli, who reminded me of Non from Superman II). Make the case for the 2013-14 team being superior to the 13-19 group of a year ago.
TSM: As much as we loved Deniz the person, he held back the team offensively. You can refer to my earlier comments about big guys not being able to run the floor effectively. This team has had a major addition by subtraction (not so much Kilicli as the other two guys). Don't get me wrong, I wish those guys well, but attitudes were a huge problem last season. Huggs admitted several times that he never had a team like last season that he just couldn't get through to (also made a point to say they were good kids, just not good players for his team/system). With that purge, we are left with no seniors and a short bench. Fouls could be a problem as the year goes on. But, we do have guys that want to play, want to do what Huggs wants them to do and we've added a couple of decent shooters in Nathan Adrian and Remi Dibo.
B5Q: Devin Williams could be a future star at power forward and West Virginia should have the length and height advantage across the front line. How would you characterize WVU as a rebounding team -- might it be able to take advantage of a soft Wisconsin interior?
TSM: Our rebounding thus far, has been an issue, despite the emergence of Williams. That's the one area that Huggs teams usually excel at that is frustrating him so far. He's been able to get guys to do what he wants on the defensive end (mostly) and we have an offensive rhythm, but rebounding has been a disappointment thus far. If you characterize the Badger interior as weak, we might have a chance to start to turn that facet around tonight. (*crosses fingers*)
B5Q: The Mountaineers have blitzed through everyone on their schedule, save for a 87-82 loss on the road at Virginia Tech early, in which the Hokies paraded to the free throw line. Was there anything particular about VT that gave West Virginia trouble?
TSM: Fouls were a big part of that loss, obviously, but it was also a valuable learning experience for this young team that is still learning to play together. There's been an accountability and work ethic this season that has been missing for several years. I don't think the VT loss was anything really about the Hokies as much as it was about WVU beating themselves.
B5Q: What are the overall expectations like around Morgantown for Year Two of Big 12 play? Does the roster still need a bit more reworking? What's your take on the state of the program at the moment?
TSM: After last season, we just want to see something that looks like organized basketball. Last year was hard to watch, even in victory. I don't know that there's any expectation as far as win totals, but a competitive team that's fun to watch would do wonders for this fanbase. Obviously we'd love to see the wins. If they can stay out of foul trouble, this may be a bubble team when it's all said and done.
We appreciate WVUIE97 taking time to talk some shooty hoops with us on short notice. Follow him on Twitter @WVUIE97 or @SmokingMusket. Or better yet, just saunter over to The Smoking Musket to see what kind of crazy Mountaineer hijinx are afoot.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Frank Kaminsky, Jr.||C||Kevin Noreen, Jr.|
|Sam Dekker, So.||F||Devin Williams, Fr.|
|Josh Gasser, Jr.||G / F||Nathan Adrian, Fr.|
|Ben Brust, Sr.||G||Eron Harris, So.|
|Traevon Jackson, Jr.||G||Juwan Staten, Jr.|
KenPom win probability: 74% (78-71 W) 69 possessions
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