MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After a three-point win against Eastern Kentucky, WVU hoops is preparing for its next opponent.
The Mountaineers (5-1) will play host to Bellarmine (2-5), a team that recently moved up from Division II and has played an extremely tough schedule. Tuesday will mark the first meeting between the two programs.
Here are four storylines to watch when the Mountaineers and Knights clash at the Coliseum:
Don’t overlook Bellarmine
The Knights boast a poor record, but there’s a reason for that 2-5 mark — they’ve already played three of the top 10 teams in the country.
The Knights lost to No. 7 Purdue, No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA in a span of two weeks as they began their campaign on a five-game losing skid. While they lost to Purdue and Gonzaga by a combined 71 points, the Knights managed to stay competitive against UCLA, falling 75-62.
Since then, Bellarmine has strung together back-to-back wins against Central Michigan (76-69) and Franklin (75-37). While the Knights haven’t pulled off a major shocker yet, upsets have been abundant already this season in college hoops, and WVU almost fell victim to one against EKU.
“We can’t take anyone lightly,” guard Taz Sherman said. “We’re not good enough to just take anyone lightly. You can be beaten on any given day.”
That’s why WVU wants to approach this game with intensity, according to fifth-year forward Pauly Paulicap.
“Underestimating your opponent can only lead to bad things,” Paulicap said. “We’ve seen Iona beat Alabama, and all of these upsets. That’s what happens when you underestimate a team. I think you come with the same focus regardless of who the competition is.”
Can WVU knock down 3-pointers?
Head coach Bob Huggins expects Bellarmine to play man-to-man defense against the Mountaineers.
The Knights have allowed a lot of 3-pointers this season. Their opponents average 27 3-point shots per game, and they make about 35 percent of them.
“They’re gonna make you shoot it over top of them,” Huggins said.
Meanwhile, WVU attempts 20 3-pointers per game and only converts 30 percent of the time. Only two Big 12 teams have shot worse from beyond the arc so far this season.
In this type of matchup, the two most obvious offensive threats for WVU are Sherman and fellow guard Sean McNeil. Those two have combined to attempt 70 triples in the first six games.
But neither guy has made shots consistently from beyond the arc yet. McNeil is 11-34 (32.4 percent), while Sherman is 10-36 (27.8 percent). Still, those two players lead the roster in scoring — Sherman averages 20.5 points per game, while McNeil’s average is 11.7.
There are other ways to attack the Bellarmine defense, though, rather than simply shoot from the perimeter.
“The drives to the basket and things you get to the basket are primarily out of breaks that you get in transition. They do a great job of helping,” Huggins said. “You’ve got to be pretty good at penetrate and pitch. You can’t just try to bowl your way in there. You’re gonna find a lot of resistance.”
Scouting Bellarmine’s offense
The Knights run a motion offense that will present a unique challenge to WVU. Even some top-caliber teams have had trouble stopping it.
In their contest with the No. 2 Bruins, the Knights halved a 20-point deficit in the second half, and ultimately lost the game by 13.
“You go on a 10, 12-point run against the No. 2-ranked team in the country, you’re doing some things right,” Huggins said.
The longtime coach of the Mountaineers said Bellarmine’s offense will look similar to motion offenses WVU has run in the past, as well as offenses that made Bob Knight successful during his coaching career.
“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’ve got a couple guys who are really good in isolation situations that can score it over either shoulder,” Huggins said.
Added Sherman: “They move well without the ball. They have a pass-first offense. They get into their little motion sets, and they really get to moving and cutting. That can really wear teams down.”
As a squad, Bellarmine averages 64.7 points per game and shoots 46.7 percent from the field. However, the Knights shoot just 28.7 percent from beyond the arc, a mark that’s worse than West Virginia’s.
After six games, the transfer from DePaul thinks he’s settling in at WVU.
Paulicap averages just under eight minutes per game, but logged a season-high 13 minutes in Friday’s win over EKU. He scored five points in that appearance by converting his only field goal attempt and going 3-4 from the line.
“Compared to last week, I was kind of lost and confused, but as we got through practices and games, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable,” Paulicap said. “Not just in reps, but in watching as well. Definitely feel more comfortable.”
Like all WVU big men, Paulicap works with assistant coach Erik Martin regularly. The veteran Huggins assistant and former Cincinnati Bearcat is emphasizing one key thing with Paulicap: slowing down.
“I usually rush shots, so he’s just telling me to focus on taking my time and finding the rim,” Paulicap said.
He’s also continuing to perfect a lost art in basketball, a skill he began developing during his stint at Harcum College in Pennsylvania: the baby hook.
“That’s been my go-to,” Paulicap said. “I think a lot of people would say the hook shot is dying in basketball, but I try to keep it alive. It works for me.”
Paulicap’s season high in scoring is six points on 3-4 shooting against Pitt. His field goal percentage (45.5) is a little low for a post player, but Huggins believes he’s making progress, and could continue to contribute more interior scoring — something the Mountaineers badly need.
“Pauly scored six points in a short period of time [vs. Pitt]. I think one of them or maybe two of them were rebound baskets,” Huggins said. “He’s a guy, you come in here, you can find him in here getting better, working. We just need to keep working with those bigs…the guys that put the time in get better. It’s not a hard formula, really.”
West Virginia hosts Bellarmine Tuesday at 7 p.m. Watch the game on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.