Bowl game and basketball warning
by Jim Buzzerd
The West Virginia University football team accepted an invitation to play Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on December 28 in Phoenix. Game time for those of us not attending will be 10:15 P.M. eastern time on ESPN. Interestingly, this will be the first ever matchup between Minnesota (8-4) and West Virginia (6-6). The Golden Gophers (no offense intended to gophers) are an early five-point favorite.
Perhaps the most drama surrounding this game will involve WVU offensive analyst Kirk Ciarrocca. Ciarrocca joined the WVU staff last March after being fired as offensive coordinator at Penn State. Prior to that Ciarrocca had been the OC at Minnesota for three seasons under P.J. Fleck. He took the PSU job citing a desire to be closer to family in the Pennsylvania area.
The relevance here is that reports indicate Ciarrocca will be returning to Minnesota as their OC. As of Monday, nothing has been made official, but if those reports become true Ciarrocca’s presence on The Minnesota staff would give them a decided advantage. I don’t know if there is some sort of honor code among college football coaches to prevent Ciarrocca from game planning against his former team, but I highly doubt it. Honor is rapidly disappearing from college sports.
If I had to buy or sell West Virginia men’s basketball right now, I could not push the buy tab. WVU is a respectable 7-1, but don’t let the record fool you. The schedule is about to become much more difficult, as in much, much more difficult. The competition ramps up Wednesday when the Mountaineers host 15th ranked Connecticut in the Big East-Big 12 Battle. UCONN may be without one or two starters but will still likely present WVU with their stiffest challenge to date.
West Virginia’s lone loss was to Big East member Marquette a few weeks ago in Charleston, SC. WVU lost that game 82-71 after leading by 12 at halftime. For reference, Marquette was picked 10th in the Big East preseason poll and UCONN was picked 2nd.
One of WVU’s largest issues as Big 12 play approaches is the lack of rebounding. On the season the Mountaineers are trailing in rebounds 276-263. WVU has actually improved in this category from earlier in the season, but what remains to be determined is if the improvement was due to lesser competition. That is probable, we’ll know soon enough.
The Mountaineers were expected to be a stout three-point shooting team, but they have not been lighting it up enough to scare anyone. Taz Sherman is averaging 21 points a game but isn’t getting much help. Sean McNeil is the only other Mountaineer scoring in double figures at 12 points a game and he missed Saturday’s 67-51 win over Radford with a lower back injury.
If McNeil’s back is indeed a problem, Sherman and WVU could be in deep trouble. Even with McNeil in the lineup WVU is approaching the part of their schedule with many teams more than capable of taking Sherman out of the game. Especially if McNeil, Jalen Bridges, and Isaiah Cottrell don’t significantly step up their offense.
One more item from looking at the stats is Pauly Paulicap’s contributions. The 6-8 graduate transfer from DePaul is averaging eight minutes a game, but in that short span of time, he gets things done. Enough to make one wonder why he doesn’t see more floor time. If you converted his averages for eight minutes per game to a 40-minute game Paulicap’s average would be 17.5 points and 16.5 rebounds. Nobody is suggesting Paulicap get 40 minutes a game but doubling his time might make sense.