Welp, now that football season is over, it's time to jump right into the middle of basketball season. It's really like one of those awkward changes of subject when you're trying to tell your girlfriend about your plan to spend Valentine's Day weekend golfing in Phoenix with the boys and she decides to interject and tell you that you just forgot her birthday. But,
alas, thankfully, the time is here. Tonight, the men open Big East play against the St. John's Red Storm. I answered five questions for the St. John's blog The East Coast Bias, and their blogger, Pico Dulce, agreed to answer a few for me. Being the slacker that I am, I only came up with three for him. His answers are after the jump.
Pico Dulce: The biggest surprise for this year's St. John's team isn't really a who. The point guards are a little better, and the leading scorers are different, but those changes follow logic; the point guards attack a little more, and the scorers (which I will get to later) were probably the most capable offensive players on the roster, but they played behind guys who played the kind of defense that the previous coaching staff liked. Of course, those scorers are also playing defense now.
The big surprise comes in how the Red Storm are (is? hard to have proper grammar when talking about a team that's named a singular.) protecting the ball. They can be a little sloppy once in a while with the ball, but the new staff has stressed actually passing the ball willingly - and not when confronted by 2 defenders that the ballhandler can't get around. That pass ends up being risky. Simply moving the ball around - and attacking - has reduced turnovers.
CR: I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't had a chance to watch St. John's this year. Who are your go-to players? Who does WVU need to contain to stand a chance of winning? Who does St. John's need to have play well to beat the Mountaineers?
PD: It's okay. Watching St. John's this year would have required you to both have multi-regional television access and an urge to watch basketball games well after midnight. Watching the Great Alaska Tournament and the 2 AM opener at St. Mary's was rough. I'm glad I live in the midwest now, or I would have heard the morning birds after each of those games.
The go-to players are Justin Brownlee, DJ Kennedy, and Dwight Hardy. Brownlee is probably the most important, because he's the most consistent low-post threat, but has flirted with foul trouble. Hardy should be the team's most dynamic playmaker, and the guy the squad will look to when they need a deep basket. DJ Kennedy used to be that guy, but is still finding his aggressiveness in this system. In truth, all of those guys could probably score decently and West Virginia would have a chance of winning; the other players are offensive wild cards right now.
For St. John's to win, they need contributions from 2-3 more players. Justin Burrell is strong and active inside, though he hasn't found his shooting stroke that he had in the past, where he almost played a stretch forward. He'll need to have a great rebounding game for the Johnnies. Paris Horne can hit open threes and is a jet in the open court, as well as a good finisher. Dwayne Polee is an agile freshman, but his lack of bulk might leave him a liability against the Mountaineers. And they need others to play their role - not turning the ball over and applying defensive pressure.
Also, St. John's needs to find open three-point shooters. It's been a real problem this year.
CR: What are your realistic best-case and worst-case scenarios this season?
PD: Best case scenario - a 5-4 Big East record at the end of January, an explosive February including a win over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, a top-6 finish.
Realistic scenario - 8th-10th place in the league, some surprise wins in January to keep pace, and then a very good February (the schedule is fairly easy).
Worst case scenario - a winless January, a 4-win Big East season, and a lot of questions about Lavin, the seniors, et cetera.