Friday's Preview: West Virginia vs. #7 Baylor
Friday marks the final day of games before Christmas Day, and while the schedule is light there are some good games to keep an eye on. Atop the list is a game at the Las Vegas Classic matching West Virginia (8-2) and #7 Baylor (10-0), with the Bears boasting one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. But to be fair this is their most strenuous back-to-back stretch of the season as they beat Saint Mary's on Thursday night. West Virginia's got one of the top forwards in the country in senior Kevin Jones (20.8 ppg, 11.3 rpg), but he's going to need help from the Mountaineers' other frontcourt players if they're to keep the Bears at bay.
One player who's capable of helping out Jones physically is Deniz Kilicli (12.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg), a physical interior presence who will need to avoid foul trouble in order for WVU to be at their best. Perry Jones III (16.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg) is the best NBA Draft prospect of the Baylor big men but freshman Quincy Miller (10.8 ppg, 5.3 ppg, 2.7 apg) isn't far behind, and his versatility and unselfish play have been great boosts to the Bears' attack. Veterans Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones are also key figures on the back line of Scott Drew's matchup zone, and the wingspan of these players makes it very difficult for opponents to find open areas.
Baylor blocks eight shots per game but their rebounding numbers don't exactly fit the profile of what one would expect from a dominant frontcourt, as their rebounding margin stands at a plus-6.7. West Virginia hasn't been great in that regard either but they do grab nearly 14 offensive rebounds per game and Baylor allows 14.1. With the zone it can be difficult at times to box out, but the Bears cannot allow this to be the case on Friday night. Jones leads the way with 4.6 offensive boards per game and players such as Kilicli and Kevin Noreen can also be of assistance on the glass.
The play on the perimeter should also pique the interest of viewers as guard play has been pointed to as the determining factor in how far Baylor goes this season. Pierre Jackson (11.5 ppg, 4.6 apg) hasn't started a game this season but he's the leading assist man for the Bears with A.J. Walton (4.2 apg) ranking second. Both can still stand to improve on their turnover numbers as Jackson averages three per game and Walton 2.4. Cal transfer Gary Franklin played his first game as a Bear at BYU last weekend and did his best work on the defensive end of the floor, but he's another option at the point if needed.
West Virginia returns a veteran in senior Truck Bryant (16.5 ppg, 3.2 apg) but he's had to do more work off the ball with the scorers they lost from last season's team. That's meant that two newcomers, Jabarie Hinds (7.9 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Gary Browne (5.8 ppg, 3.6 apg) have shared the duties at the point for much of the game. The two are averaging a combined 4.8 turnovers per game, a number that should (and has to) improve as the Mountaineers approach Big East play. Both teams turn the ball over an average of 15 times per game while forcing 17 turnovers, with Baylor's defensive turnover percentage slightly better due to playing one less possession per game.
The key for West Virginia will be to find quality looks inside of the arc; they shoot 31.4% from deep while Baylor allows opponents to shoot 31.9%. Where Baylor's been really good is their overall field goal percentage defense, as opponents have made just 34.6% of their shots. Could the schedule have something to do with this? Yes, but the bigger reason is the length of the frontcourt discussed above. It's difficult to make those shots when having to deal with multiple players possessing wingspans beyond seven feet, but WVU will have to find a way to do so if they're to win.
In other games on Friday there's a huge game in Las Vegas, especially for the resume of the Pac-12. California, one of the teams expected to contend for the conference title, takes on Mountain West contender UNLV and the Rebels rank among the most tested teams in the country. The Golden Bears may once again be without forward Richard Solomon, and that could be an issue when it comes to dealing with UNLV's Mike Moser. The guard play should be fun to watch with Cal having Allen Crabbe, Jorge Gutierrez and Justin Cobbs while UNLV will counter with Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall and Chace Stanback just to name three of their weapons. UNLV would be in good shape either way, but with that Missouri whipping on their resume Cal could use another good non-conference win.
Rhode Island gains the services of Billy Baron and Andre Malone, a pair of mid-season transfers the 1-10 Rams desperately need to go along with Jamal Wilson. They'll host in-state rival Providence, with Ed Cooley doing a very good job thus far in turning around the proud program. Vincent Council ranks among the top point guards in the Big East, Bryce Cotton has made significant strides in his sophomore campaign and LaDontae Henton has been one of the best freshmen in America.
Pittsburgh hosts NEC contender Wagner, and the Seahawks will look to their solid backcourt led by Tyler Murray to lead the way in their quest for the upset. And also on the west coast is Richmond taking on UCLA in a game that the Spiders can definitely win. Darien Brothers scored 38 against ODU, and while the Bruins have won four straight since the dismissal of Reeves Nelson they're schedule has done them a favor (outside of the Penn matchup).
Top 25 Games
7:00 PM Western Kentucky at (4) Louisville (ESPN2)
9:00 PM (7) Baylor vs. West Virginia* (ESPN)
8:00 PM Wagner at (13) Pittsburgh (ESPNU)
5:30 PM Mississippi Valley State at (14) Wisconsin (BTN)
1:30 AM (15) Xavier at Hawaii (ESPNU)
5:00 PM California at (23) UNLV (CBSSN)
NCAA Division I Games
1:00 PM Valparaiso at IUPUI
2:00 PM Maine at Brown
2:00 PM Dartmouth at Albany
2:00 PM Norfolk State at St. Francis (NY)
3:00 PM Clemson vs. Southern Illinois* (ESPNU)
3:00 PM Kennesaw State vs. Texas A&M-CC*
5:00 PM UTEP vs. Kansas State* (ESPNU)
6:00 PM Ball State at Morehead State
7:00 PM Furman at Georgia (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Vermont at Towson
7:00 PM St. Francis (PA) at St. Bonaventure
7:00 PM North Carolina A&T at Ohio
7:00 PM Marist at Pennsylvania
7:00 PM Providence at Rhode Island (Cox HD)
7:00 PM Chicago State at Cincinnati (ESPN3)
7:00 PM UIC at Dayton
7:00 PM Manhattan at George Mason
7:00 PM Seton Hall at Longwood (FCS)
7:00 PM Western Michigan at Oakland (FSN Detroit)
7:00 PM East Tennessee State at Tennessee
8:00 PM Radford at Maryland (ESPN3)
10:30 PM Richmond at UCLA (FSN PT)
11:00 PM Long Beach State vs. Auburn (ESPN2)
11:30 PM Missouri State vs. Saint Mary's* (ESPN3)