Unbeaten Missouri poses big road test for WVU

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The success/failure split of fall semester can linger heavily on a team’s tournament hopes come March, and with that in mind, Eron Harris laid some heavy stakes on Thursday night’s game at Missouri.

“We’re going to go out there like it’s the national championship,” he said.

With hype like that, perhaps Harris should be in charge of promoting the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, a 10-game series the Big 12 currently leads 2-1. Harris and West Virginia (6-2), after missing their chance to knock off No. 10 Wisconsin last week in Cancun, view the matchup against Missouri (7-0) as an important resume builder.

“The game vs. Wisconsin, we let that one slip,” said Harris. “All these games are must-wins for us because we want to make it to the (NCAA) tournament.”

While West Virginia is 1-2 away from Morgantown this season, Missouri has been seemingly invincible inside its home arena, winning 22 straight overall and its last 77 nonconference games. With a near-capacity crowd of 15,000 anticipated for tonight’s showdown on ESPN2, the Mountaineers face both a daunting challenge and a grand opportunity.

“National TV, big crowd, all the things you can ask for,” said WVU forward Remi Dibo. “We’ve just got to come out and be ready to play.”

The Mountaineers certainly looked ready for Monday night’s 96-47 tuneup victory over Loyola-Maryland, which tied West Virginia’s Bob Huggins with Jerry Tarkanian and former Missouri coach Norm Stewart for 16th on the all-time wins list at 729. Though WVU out-rebounded Loyola 62-22, it remains 121st nationally in rebound percentage, whereas Mizzou ranks 21st.

“It’s the most athletic bunch we’ve faced,” Huggins said. “If we don’t do a better job of blocking out higher and keeping then from pushing us under the basket, it’s going to be a long night for us on the glass.”

Updating the Big 12/SEC Challenge:

Nov. 14
Alabama def. Texas Tech 76-64 (SEC leads 1-0)
Dec. 2
Iowa State def. Auburn 99-70 (Series tied 1-1)
Texas def. Vanderbilt 70-64 (Big 12 leads 2-1)
Thursday
West Virginia at Missouri, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
TCU at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Mississippi at Kansas State, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Friday
South Carolina at Oklahoma State, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Kentucky vs. Baylor at Arlington, Texas, 10 p.m. (ESPN)
Tuesday
Kansas at Florida, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Dec. 21
Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M at Houston, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)

 

SCOUTING MISSOURI
Tipoff: 7 p.m. at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. (ESPN2)
Record: The Tigers (7-0) are off to a fast start, albeit against opponents with a combined record of 17-32. The best of Missouri’s not-so-impressive string of wins came over Hawaii (92-80) and Northwestern (78-67).
RPIs: Missouri is No. 68 and WVU is No. 91.
Coach: Frank Haith’s third season at Mizzou began with a five-game suspension born of recruiting violations he committed at Miami. Though his record stands at 184-117 overall and 55-16 with back-to-back NCAA tourney berths with the Tigers, he very well could have been fired over the Miami infractions if not for NCAA investigators bungling the case.
Top players: Mizzou’s top three scorers are 6-foot-5 guards who began their college careers elsewhere— Jabari Brown (Oregon), Jordan Clarkson (Tulsa) and Earnest Ross (Auburn). At 19.2 points per game, more than half of Brown’s field goals have come from 3-point land, while the point guard Clarkson (19.4 ppg) is shooting better than 70 percent from 2-point range and Ross (13.4 ppg) is a swingman who leads the squad with 11 steals and eight blocks. “Clarkson, Brown and Ross kind of have the green light to shoot it and drive when they want,” Huggins said. “They’re really, really good in transition.”
WVU roster notes: Mizzou has a reputation for playing fast, but WVU averages a half-possession more per 40 minutes while outscoring the Tigers 85.1 to 80.6. … Juwan Staten (16.3 ppg) owns an amazing 60-to-9 assist-to-turnover ratio, and on the defensive end he has more steals (14) than fouls (nine). … Eron Harris (20.2 ppg) scored a season-low 14 points against Loyola but is shooting 52 percent from 3-point range—putting him among the top 30 in the nation. … After scoring 19 points in his last game, Remi Dibo (10.3) is averaging double-digits, with 21 3-point makes among his 28 field goals.
Line: Missouri favored by 5.5.
Prediction: Missouri 80-75




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