It’s a big, action-filled evening for the Cats with a football battle against the soon to be Fulmer-less Vols and a basketball matchup with Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers. In an effort to get you prepared for the game this evening, I’ve decided to scrap my great stories about my week at Bob Huggins basketball camp and just skip to a very abbreviated (I’m being forced to hang Christmas lights) edition of “Scouting the Five”.
Here is a preview of the starting five of the West Virginia Mountaineers – a team that has nine players averaging 14 minutes a game or more.
2008-09 stats: 6.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.0 apg
The junior guard from Rhode Island is small. compact and physical. Just ask Pittsburgh police. The lefty point guard spent last season as a back-up to Darris Nichols, but established himself on the national scene against Duke in last year’s NCAA tournament with a near triple-double, going for 13 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. With the departure of Nichols, Mazzulla has taken over as captain of the Mountaineers ship, but doesn’t bring a lot scoring-wise. He uses his body to get to basket and draw fouls (half his season points are free throws), but he also knows where to find his men on the perimeter. He’s a poor shooter from three-point land, shooting only 20%, which is something you don’t often see from WVU’s guards. Just like Pullen and Clemente last night, expect him to attach Porter with the drive early.
2008-09 stats: 17.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.0 spg, 2.3 apg
Alex Ruoff can best be described in one word: Shootah. Already this season, Ruoff has knocked down 15 three-pointers (seven against Delaware State) and is hitting at a 46.9% clip from behind the arc. He gets a great release at the top of his jump and, at 6-6, he rarely has trouble getting his shot off. The senior from Spring Hill, Fla. could have the type of game against UK that Meeks had against Kansas State last night if they don’t improve their perimeter defense. Ruoff will get his touches and will fire up his shots. It will be up to the Cats (most likely Ramon Harris) to attack him on defense and make him fight for touches on offense, hopefully wearing him down in the process.
2008-09 stats: 13.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg
Butler is the prototypical small forward for the Mountaineers’ offense. Despite playing on the perimeter, Butler is a threat for a double-double every single game as he uses his athleticism and newly added 25 pounds to get putbacks and takes advantage of long rebounds off of the three-point shot. He established himself as a solid player as a freshman when he averaged 10 points and was named to the Big East All-Freshman team and started every game last year as a sophomore. Butler has breakout potential in this game as well as he’s much better than Ruoff at getting to the rack if the Cats get too caught up defending his very, very good jumper.
2008-09 stats: 7.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.8 bpg
Smith rotates with freshman Kevin Jones – who’s actually a better player – but will still see his fair share of action against the Cats. In typical WVU fashion, Smith will be lined up as a power forward on the stat sheet, but he’s essentially a small forward. Smith doesn’t pull the trigger very often on offense, but he’s extremely athletic and can re-direct and block shots on the defensive end.
2008-09 stats: 7.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Hey, I think I remember this guy. Ebanks, another small forward disguised as a post player for Huggins, stepped onto campus in Morgantown this fall with a lot of hype. A five-star recruit in high school, Ebanks was listed by Rivals.com as the #2 small forward in the country and the #11 player overall and broke the hearts of Indiana fans when he decided to head to WVU. So far this season, he’s logging under 20 minutes per contest in the Mountaineer rotation and only taking about four shots per game. However, he can score in a variety of ways when he gets the call.
The Mountaineers, like Kansas State, will attack the Cats with a number of players off of the bench, some of whom are actually logging more minutes than the starters. 6-2 Freshman G Darrel Bryant plays about 20 minutes a game for the Mountaineers in relief of Mazzulla and is actually producing much better numbers with 12 points, 3 boards and just under four assists per game. He’s a much better long-distance shooter than Mazzulla and has a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio.
The Mountaineers will use another freshman, forward Kevin Jones in place of Ebanks and Smith and he’s been very productive in his 15 minutes per game, giving WVU 8 points and 5 boards. He’s comfortable on the perimeter (as all WVU players are), but he’ll be used mostly this year as a big body – something he’s also very good at doing.
WVU will also use Dee Proby, a 6-10 player who doesn’t give a whole lot outside of size. But then again, we said that about that Kent guy last night. If Patrick Patterson gets cooking early, he could see some action.
Also, 6-7 sophomore forward John Flowers will see some action on the wing for the Mountaineers. So far, in 20 minutes of action, he’s averaging 7 points and 4 boards.
It’s going to be a touch matchup for the Cats tonight. There’s no question that they must limit their turnovers and that’s something easier said than done against this West Virginia team. If they can not get caught into a hectic game that WVU wants to push them into, they can certainly win this game. Oh yeah…it would also be nice to get 40 from Jodie Meeks too.