A quick preview, with pregame media and the keys for tonight's game:
Five Points -or- Keys to the Game
Bottling the Good Times. Kennedy has learned how to play his game against tougher opponents; and Paris Horne has developed his shooting from many spots on the floor. Justin Burrell has been effective when coming open down low and even in the high post. Sean Evans is good at getting scoring opportunities in transition. Quincy Roberts can make some passes in the halfcourt.
None of these things seem to happen against the good opponents. Either Kennedy or Paris become stifled, Justin doesn't get shots, and Evans ends up looking like a guy with intermittent offensive skill. And the point guard play, well... St. John's has to figure out how to get good sets and good results against the best teams in the conference, and make the flow of the game look like the team's better efforts. It's more than playing hard, it's about playing without mistakes.
Crisp Winter Passing. A few weak passes by Quincy and Kennedy and the Mountaineers will be off to the races. I expect to see Kennedy holding the ball at times along with Quincy Roberts. But to have a chance, the team has to turn over the ball less than 10 times, I would wager. And DJ Kennedy has to force himself not to shoot - even if he's the only one who is getting his shot off - and make plays for his teammates (who are better shot-makers than he is).
Hot Shooting. West Virginia is a tough squad. But St. John's shut Ruoff down last year; they can eliminate the outside shot again. But Butler, most likely, will make his shots. In response, St. John's has to find a way to get hot from the field. Whether it's Paris Horne getting good looks for his jump shot (or getting steals), or Justin Burrell having a career day, it's going to take a superlative, noteworthy effort from one of the St. John's players on offense to win this game.
Block Out With Your #*$! Out. One thing the Mountaineers excel at is offensive rebounding. They have to be kept off of their glass; if not, it could be a real stat-stuffer day for Butler or, more likely, Ebanks.
Hands Free Suppression. Norm Roberts wants his team to be physical, but dumb fouls against a slashing Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, or (more likely due to the skill disparity) Truck Bryant will put this game out of reach very quickly.
NY Post: Kennedy Showing Red Storm the Way
"I always thought I was a silent leader," said Kennedy. "I led by letting my play do the talking. But when I looked at our situation, so many guys hurt and us struggling, I felt I had to say something after I let the team down like I did. It's turned out good."
Kennedy will have to be at his best today when the Red Storm try to snap an eight-game losing streak to the Mountaineers and a six-game Big East road losing streak. Perhaps they finally have the player to lead them.
Charleston Gazette: Talent isn't everything, as WVU proves
"We've got to move people. We've got to beat people with ball movement. We've got to make them go from ball side to help side and back, and maybe back again. And then we get that [spacing] when you get them chasing.''
"Teams like us have to things like that. We have to do the right things,'' Huggins said. "It's not easy. We miss a lot of shots. We miss a lot of open shots. But we're going to miss shots. I watch them miss shots every day. But we can still block out every time. We can still screen. We can still reverse the ball. Sometimes you can't control whether the ball goes in or not, but those are things we can control. We have to get better at doing the things we can control.''
What it boils down to is a dogfight every night. Even in a game like West Virginia's next one, Wednesday at home with St. John's, the Mountaineers aren't going to just show up and win because of talent. That's just not the way this team is built right now.
Charleston Gazette: WVU takes on St. John's
Guard Paris Horne, who had never before scored 20 points in a game, has scored 24, 20 and 27 in three of the Red Storm's last four games....
That was a sorely needed lift for the Red Storm, which began the season 9-1 against entirely suspect competition, but since is just 2-7. St. John's did manage to pull off one of the season's biggest shockers, beating Notre Dame in early January at the Garden, but has otherwise been awful. All but one of its eight losses this season have been by double figures, the exception a nine-point defeat at Villanova.
It's not that Roberts and the Red Storm don't have some extenuating circumstances, though. The team's best player, junior forward Anthony Mason Jr., was lost for the season almost from the start with a foot injury. And point guard Malik Boothe is out until at least early February with torn ligaments in a thumb, forcing the Red Storm to constantly shuffle those responsibilities much like West Virginia does now when its only healthy point guard, Darryl Bryant, is out of the game.
The Smoking Musket: The Human vs. Computer Rankings Disconnect
But look at West Virginia's resume vs. Georgetown's. WVU ranks above the Hoyas in both computer tallies. West Virginia's schedule, ranked ninth by both computers, is comparable to Georgetown's top-five rated schedule. And while we have less quality wins (one to three), we still have one less loss (five to six). So why not us? Why, after a week where they lose two games does Georgetown remain ranked while West Virginia, a team with a convincing road win over that same team, barely move at all?
(editor's note: RPI for WVU - 19)
MSNSportsNet: St. John's Preview
"It seems that D.J. Kennedy is a key in a lot of ways," Huggins said. "He’s first or second on their team in scoring, rebounding, steals and assists. Largely every stat that you can keep he’s first or second."
Bluefield Daily Telegraph: Red Storm descends on Mounties
For the bettors, the point spread is 16.5 in favor of West Virginia. That's not a good sign.