Two teams with a legitimate chance of capturing the Big East Conference title meet in Philadelphia today, as the 25th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers come calling on the 12th-ranked Villanova Wildcats.
West Virginia is 15-6 on the year, and that includes a 6-3 mark in league action, matching that of both Villanova and Louisville coming into action this weekend. The Mountaineers own a 4-3 mark in true road games, but they have won three of their last four on enemy hardwood, including a 66-55 decision at Cincinnati last Saturday. WVU followed that victory up with a 56-44 triumph at home over Seton Hall on Wednesday, marking the best defensive effort of the season for the Mountaineers. Actually, coach Bob Huggins' club has held two of its last four opponents below 47 points, and all four to 55 points or less.
Villanova suffered its first home loss of the season last weekend to Georgetown (69-66), and used that as motivation to take out visiting Marquette on Wednesday in a 75-70 final. As a result, the Wildcats are 18-4 on the year and they are putting the wraps on a three-game homestand this afternoon. Coach Jay Wright's team will play three of its next four on the road, with the lone home bout during that stretch being against No. 4 Pittsburgh next Saturday night.
Villanova owns a narrow 21-19 lead in the all-time series with West Virginia, and the teams split a pair of meetings last season, with each winning on the other's home floor.
West Virginia isn't the most explosive offensive in the Big East, netting 72.0 ppg on typical shooting outputs of 43.8 percent overall, 32.0 percent from three-point range and 69.0 percent from the foul line. There are three double- digit scorers listed on the team's stat sheet, but leading scorer Casey Mitchell (16.6 ppg) was suspended indefinitely at the end of January. That leaves Kevin Jones (13.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Darryl Bryant (11.0 ppg) and John Flowers (9.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) as the only real options at the offensive end. A guy like Deniz Kilicli (7.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg) has shown signs of improvement, but he lacks consistency. Without a serious offensive star, the Mountaineers have relied on a defensive effort that yields 63.8 ppg with foes hitting their total shots just 39.5 percent of the time and their three-point tries at just a 27.0 percent clip. WVU has been even stingier of late, refusing to allow any of its last five opponents to shoot better than 40 percent from the floor.
Villanova boasts four double-digit scorers at the moment, helping the team put up 76.0 ppg on 44.5 percent overall field goal efficiency, which includes a 34.7 percent showing from beyond the arc, and a 78.0 percent effort from the charity stripe. Defensively, the team permits 64.0 ppg with foes shooting just 39.5 percent from the floor and only 29.2 percent from downtown. Add a +6.0 rebounding margin to the equation and it's no wonder the 'Cats are enjoying another stellar campaign. Corey Fisher (15.6 ppg, 5.1 apg), Corey Stokes (15.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and Maalik Wayns (14.0 ppg, 5.0 apg) lead the way from their spots in the VU backcourt, while wide bodies in Antonio Pena (10.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Mouphtao Yarou (8.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) hold down the fort in close to the basket. Yarou was high man in the recent win over Marquette, matching his career-high with 18 points, while Fisher tallied 17 points and six assists, Stokes 14 points, Pena 14 points and 10 boards, and Wayns 10 points and four helpers. With his recent performance, Pena became the 19th player in school history to record 1,000 points and 700 rebounds. Villanova used a 29-13 advantage in points from the foul line and a defensive effort that held the Golden Eagles to just 3-of-16 on three-point tries to earn the satisfying victory.
Expect the 'Cats to defend their [off-campus] home as they push past the Mountaineers, who simply won't be able to score enough points to pull off the mild upset.
GAME NOTES: Two teams with a legitimate chance of capturing the Big East Conference title meet in Philadelphia today, as the 25th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers come calling on the 12th-ranked Villanova Wildcats.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Wells Fargo Center (21,000) -- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPN. Home Record: W. Virginia 8-1, Villanova 12-1. Away Record: W. Virginia 4-3, Villanova 5-2. Neutral Record: W. Virginia 3-2, Villanova 1-1. Conference Record: W. Virginia 6-3, Villanova 6-3. Series Record: Villanova leads, 21-19.