I don't often get to do many Q&A's for basketball, but a decent non-conference matchup like Sunday's against West Virginia is certainly worthy of one. WVUIE97 of SB Nation's Smoking Musket posted my responses as part of their "Starring Down the Musket" series this morning. Here are his answers to my questions:
T-Mill: West Virginia has had a rough time of it in the two trips it took to Mackey Arena, but defended home court in 2011. Has this been a 4-game series worth it for WVU?
WVUIE97: I think so, it's not like the losses hurt our tournament resume the last couple of years. Our team last year was just....ugh. And even with the losses and maybe not recruiting the area heavily, Huggs can always point to games like that where kids know they will be playing quality non-con opponents year after year. The wins would certainly have been nice, and a win this weekend would absolutely strengthen this year's resume for a Mountaineer team looking to get over the hump and get a few quality wins.
T-Mill: How much better is this year's WVU team compared to last year? Would you say they are favored?
WVUIE97: Although the record doesn't reflect it so much, this year's team is miles ahead of last year. We had some addition by subtraction plus some young guys like Devin Williams, Nathan Adrian and Brandon Watkins step up at different times. Add to that a new attitude and tremendous leadership from Juwan Staten plus great scoring from Eron Harris (and a few others) and you get a great mix of guys who care and want to do what Huggs is asking them to do. There's a grittiness and heart in this team that the last two (especially last season) just didn't have.
As far as being favored, I'm not sure. Looking at the statistics (I don't have much more to go on for Purdue) I would say we're about evenly matched, with only percentage points separating the teams in many categories. Maybe the odds makers give us the edge based on it being at home, but I think it'll be a close one.
T-Mill: Both teams need a quality non-conference win, so who needs this one more?
WVUIE97: With both teams playing in conferences with several ranked teams, that's hard to say. WVU will likely get more chances at quality wins against those teams, but I'm basing that on the true round-robin schedule we play in conference. We'll get 8 cracks at a top 25 teams (as currently ranked) whereas Purdue only has 6 of em. In that sense, it may be more important to Purdue. But our guys are hungry for a good win to put under their belts.
T-Mill: Who are the standout guys for WVU?
WVUIE97: Juwan Staten has really come on as the floor general of this team and gutty leader. He'll score when needed, but he's come a long way in distributing the ball and not turning it over. As far as the scorers go, Eron Harris has been in the top 5 Big 12 scorers until an ankle injury hampered him in the most recent game. Off the bench, Terry Henderson is another threat to shoot the three ball efficiently.
T-Mill: What about Purdue do you fear most?
WVUIE97: Dealing with another BIG man inside. We aren't that big down low and we've had trouble with them a bit so far. Hopefully we can get Hammons in foul trouble early and limit his effectiveness.
T-Mill: Finally, a prediction for Saturday?
WVUIE97: A close game. If Harris's ankle injury doesn't hamper him again, and he can be the scorer we need him to be, I think we have a chance. Otherwise we're definitely going to need the other guys to step up and help shoulder the load. How WVU deals with Purdue's size will be an interesting matchup to watch. Hopefully we can get a decent crowd and get them into the game early, but I'm not holding my breath on the attendance.