There are just two weeks left in the regular season and West Virginia will finish the year with four tough games, two on the road beginning this Wednesday night at Notre Dame, and then at USF on Saturday, March 3.
In between, West Virginia has a difficult one-day prep before taking on Marquette on Friday night at the Coliseum and then facing improving DePaul the following Tuesday night in the final home appearances for seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant.
The Mountaineers (17-10) helped their NCAA tournament chances last Thursday night with their 66-48 win at Pitt, and they can boost their résumé further with wins over 19-8 Notre Dame, 22-5 Marquette, 11-15 DePaul or 17-10 South Florida.
Getting a win in any of these games won’t be easy, though. West Virginia dropped a 55-51 decision to Notre Dame on Feb. 8 and has lost 10 straight to the Irish at Purcell Pavilion. The Mountaineers’ last road triumph against Notre Dame occurred 16 years ago in 1996 when Gale Catlett was still on the bench. West Virginia has won just three times ever at the facility in ’96, 1987 and 1972.
Notre Dame brings an eight-game winning streak into Wednesday night’s game, including Saturday’s 74-70 win at Villanova in overtime fashion. At one point the Wildcats led the Irish 39-19 before they went on a big run. Notre Dame’s strengths are its ball handling (2nd in Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio), free throw shooting (3rd in Big East) and scoring defense (5th in Big East).
The Irish held the ball and used most of the shot clock the first time these two teams met in Morgantown and were able to parlay that strategy into a four-point win. The Mountaineers had fought back from a 12-point deficit to take the three-point lead with 2:34 remaining before Notre Dame responded with back-to-back 3s to win the game.
Marquette is playing well, too, winning 10 of its last 11 including three in a row against DePaul, Cincinnati and Connecticut before Wednesday’s game against Rutgers. Marquette’s five losses this year have come against LSU, Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Syracuse and Notre Dame.
The Golden Eagles have also enjoyed recent success against West Virginia, taking both games last year by scores of 79-74 in Milwaukee and 67-61 in New York at the Big East tournament. The Mountaineers needed a last-second shot from Da’Sean Butler to knock off Marquette in Morgantown in 2010 - West Virginia’s last victory against the Golden Eagles.
Notre Dame and Marquette should both be ranked again this week when the rankings come out later today.Briefly:
* Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley, who scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds the first time the Irish faced West Virginia in Morgantown, matched his career-high with 22 points at Rutgers to go along with a career-best 18 rebounds. Cooley had 18 points and 13 boards against Villanova on Saturday to boost his season averages to 12.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
* Notre Dame is 5-1 in games decided by five points or less this year, including its 55-51 win at WVU on Feb. 8. West Virginia, meanwhile, is 4-4 in games decided by five points or less.
* The Irish have lost all three of their non-conference games this year against ranked teams: Missouri, Gonzaga and Indiana. West Virginia is 0-2 against ranked non-conference teams falling to Mississippi State and Baylor. Overall, the Big East is a combined 8-14 against ranked non-conference teams, which could be a cause for concern for teams on the bubble come tournament selection time.
* West Virginia’s Kevin Jones continues to lead the Big East in scoring (20.4 ppg.) and rebounding (11.2 rpg.) and he is now 12th in the country in scoring and third in rebounding. Jones had his streak of nine straight 20-point games stopped against Notre Dame, and in last Thursday night’s win at Pitt, he scored 16. However, KJ has had double-doubles in four of his last five games and he currently leads the Big East with 18 double-doubles. Seton Hall’s Herb Pope is second with 15 double-doubles while St. John’s freshman Moe Harkless is third with 10 double-doubles.
* Deniz Kilicli is averaging 16.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in his last five games, scoring double figures in all five against Pitt, Providence, Notre Dame, Louisville and Pitt.
* According to RealTimeRPI.com, West Virginia has an RPI of 34 as of Monday morning. Games against No. 37 Notre Dame, No. 11 Marquette and No. 56 South Florida are coming up for the Mountaineers leading into the Big East tournament.
* There are still tickets remaining for West Virginia’s final two home games of the season against Marquette on Friday and DePaul next Tuesday. On the line is West Virginia’s streak of four straight seasons of averaging better than 10,000 fans per game. As of today, the Mountaineers are averaging 9,753 fans for their 14 home dates so far this year.
To order tickets, log on to WVUGAME.com
or by calling the Mountaineer Ticket Office toll-free at 1-800-WVU GAME.