The West Virginia Mountaineers (5-1) welcome in the Bellarmine Knights (2-5) Tuesday night for the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
Bellarmine enters its second season at the Division I level after rising to a D-II powerhouse over the last decade with four Final Four appearances, including a national championship under the direction of Scott Davenport. The Knights posted an impressive 10-3 ASUN conference record and finished second in their first season as conference members last year, earning their 12th consecutive postseason bid.
Bellarmine returns four of its five starters from a season ago, led by Dylan Penn’s 16.1 points per game. He’s posted career bests 27 points against St. Mary’s (CA) and in the win over Central Michigan. CJ Fleming is second on the team in scoring at 10.4 ppg and is the team-leading three-point scorer at 39.4%.
The Knights will undoubtedly take advantage of West Virginia’s aggressive nature and use back cuts and backscreens – a staple of the Bellarmine offense. As a team, they ranked 28th nationally in two-point field goal percentage (57.7%).
“It’s a lot like what we used to run awhile ago, with all the back cuts and all the backscreens and curls and the iso’s – that was college basketball really for a good while,” said West Virginia Bob Huggins. “I mean, when you think about the success (Former Indiana head coach Bob Knight), Coach Knight had it was a motion, cutting, curling, fading offense and I think it requires having people who can pass the ball, which they do. Their guys are very skilled, it has to do with having patience and not really getting ahead of yourself, which they do a terrific job of, and they got a couple of guys who are really good in isolation situations that can score it over either shoulder. So, I think he has done a terrific job of either bringing personnel to that or bringing that to his personnel, one or the other.”
Defensively, Huggins said the Knights run a pack line defense.
“I think for his personnel, it serves them really well,” he said. “You take away all the easy shots you can take away and make people try to score the ball over top of you, and they do a great job of it.”
As for West Virginia, they’ve struggled to put a complete game together but have seemingly made strides in rebounding. In the first two games of the season, the Mountaineers were outrebounded by 15 and 16. However, outside of the loss to Marquette at the Charleston Classic, where WVU was outrebounded by five while relinquishing an 11-point halftime lead, West Virginia has outrebounded its opponents by an average of 3.7 boards per game.
Defensive effort, at times, has been an issue, most notably, the loss to Marquette.
“I think the Marquette deal kind of woke them up a little bit, quite frankly. We’ve got pretty good control of the game, then all of a sudden, we don’t have any control, and I honestly think that woke them up some.”
Huggins “G rated” version of the message he told the team, “play harder longer.”
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