Coming off a disappointing road loss at St. John's, the WVU mens' basketball team has a great opportunity to get back on track against...one of the best teams in the country who just happens to present all kinds of potential matchup problems in a venue where the Mountaineers have historically struggled in Big East games. Great, just what the doctor ordered, especially with a quick turnaround to host a still-dangerous (even if underachieving) Pitt team on Big Monday. WVU cannot afford to drop three in a row, and it would be a boon to pick up a road win against a top-5 opponent. At least the folks at ESPN's Weekend Watch think we have a chance to pull this off. I hope they're right, because we owe these guys one from football season.
I fired some questions to one of the best bloggers on SBNation, Sean Keeley of Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, to get his take on the matchup. Here's what he had to say:
Country Roads: I really wondered how Syracuse's first loss of the season would affect them. I watched bits and pieces of the Notre Dame game and was shocked at how the Irish were in control basically from wire to wire, and I debated whether another loss to Cincinnati would shake their confidence or make them hungrier to beat WVU. Then after the Orange took control of the Cincinnati game even after the Bearcats' hot start, I realized that the loss didn't phase them much at all. How excited will the team be to take on a surging WVU team at home? Or will it not even matter because Syracuse is so much more talented that they can win even without being on top of their game?
Sean Keeley: The Notre Dame game was just like you said...the Irish controlled it from start to finish. I suppose we were due for one of those games when you play terrible and your opponent shoots the lights out. Given that we also had to play with[out] Fab Melo, it's no wonder that Notre Dame's requisite large ugly white guy ran wild.
I really liked what I saw out of the end of the Cincinnati game. It started out like ND, hostile crowd, opponent shooting lights out. And then, a bunch of our guys woke up, remembered who they were and made critical plays. Say what you will about our depth but it was our veterans (Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche) that won that game.
I think the Orange still have a chip on their shoulder, if you can believe it. Even at 21-1, they are aware that a lot of people doubt them and they seem driven by that. They don't want to lose at home for the first time all year and they want to reinforce that they are one of the best teams in the nation. Don't expect them to sleepwalk through this one.
CR: Fab Melo's absence seemed to really affect Syracuse in the Notre Dame loss, but Rakeem Christmas stepped in and posted 9 rebounds and 3 blocks against Cincinnati. What are the chances Melo returns on Saturday? If he's still out, how worried are you about Syracuse's ability to defend Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli inside?
SK: All signs points to Melo not playing again. No official word but it sounds like whatever academic issue is holding his return up remains in place. So, the Orange will have to rely on Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita again to provide help in the paint. I don't know if we can expect that kind of performance out of Christmas every game, he's still young and adjusting to Big East play. As for Keita, he really seems to have regressed from last season and also apparently butters up his hands before every game. We need both of them to be Trent Dilfer-esque. Don't try to win the game for us, but don't lose it for us either.
I think West Virginia could definitely take advantage of the mismatches down low. And if I were you, I'd try to get one of those two in foul trouble. SU has no big-man depth now and will be forced to play small (though that's not a terrible thing on offense).
CR: I've seen and heard this discussed many times over the course of the season, but I've yet to receive a definitive answer. Who is Syracuse's go-to player?
SK: Before last week I would have said Dion Waiters and the conversation would have been over. However, he played so poorly, especially against Cincy, that we had to take a step back and realize we're back where we started in terms of Go-To Guy. The truth is, it depends. Sometimes it's Joseph. Sometimes it's Waiters. And every so often it's Triche or Scoop. I honestly can't give a stronger answer but this team is constantly relying on someone new.
CR: For some reason (well, probably a lot of readily ascertainable reasons) WVU always struggles with Syracuse, particularly in the Carrier Dome. Why do you think that is? And is there anything about the Mountaineers this year that particularly scares you or makes you think the Orange could drop their second game in a week?
SK: Other than the obvious reason of playing on the road, I'm not quite sure. I mean, you guys won an NCAA Regional in the Carrier Dome, so it's not like you can't win here. It's probably just a confluence of road atmosphere, our fans' penchant for disliking you and Syracuse just playing better at home.
CR: The Orange are installed as a 5-point favorite. How do you see this turning out? Will one team jump out to a lead and the other battle back? Will it be a rout wire-to-wire? Or will Dion Waiters have to make a miraculous runner at the buzzer to win it? Oh, and if we win, can we have the Schwartzwalder trophy back? Please?
SK: Most Big East games have been back-and-forth for 10-15 minutes with the Orange making a game-changing run late in the first-half to take a decent lead into the locker-room. Adjustments are made and the second half tightens up but ultimately SU will pull away. At least that's how it usually goes.
And from the looks of things, we're going to be holding on to the Schwartzwalder Trophy for a looooong time.
Thanks to Sean for taking the time to talk hoops with us. Make sure to visit Nunes to see my answers to his questions, talk a little smack, and generally be entertained by his take on Syracuse athletics. It's a hoot.