By BRENDAN McGAIR
PROVIDENCE – The often-used sports cliché “matchup nightmare” immediately springs to mind when referring to West Virginia sensation Kevin Jones. In this instance, the label is justified. A hulking 6-foot-8, 260-pound senior, Jones went into Saturday’s action with the distinction of being the Big East’s leader in scoring (20.9 ppg, good for 10th best in the country) and rebounding (11.5, the nation’s fourth-best figure).
Such prolific production from Jones only begins to describe the challenge awaiting Ed Cooley and his Providence College Friars come Super Bowl Sunday at high noon at The Dunk. Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers come to town eager to resurrect their NCAA Tournament hopes, which recently took a turn for the worse with a three-game losing streak that at its nadir included a missed goaltending call in the final seconds that served as the main storyline in last Saturday’s 63-61 loss to Syracuse.
If West Virginia (15-8 overall, 5-5 in Big East play) is going to get back in the NCAA running, a big game from Jones is a must. With 15 double-doubles in 23 games this season, the Mount Vernon, N.Y. native has been able to deliver more often than not. Looking deeper at the 4.5 offensive rebounds he’s averaging (tops in America) and the 25 3-pointers he’s made and it’s little wonder why Cooley was quick to lavish praise upon someone who stands a good chance of winding up as Big East Player of the Year.
“He’s got a good feel for the game and looks like a good teammate. I enjoy watching him play,” Cooley said prior to the start of Friday’s practice. “You’ve got to know where he is on missed shots. He’s a seeker who just goes after the ball and plays with a purpose every time.”
While the numbers Jones has compiled this season suggest that he needs the ball in hos hands at all times in order to make his mark, Cooley noted that the presence of senior point guard Daryl “Truck” Bryant grants Jones additional space on the floor to attack. Bryant, who like Jones has been a major contributor in Morgantown upon his arrival four years ago, scores at a 17-ppg clip while knocking down 32 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“They don’t need to play-run for (Jones), which makes them even harder to guard,” Cooley said.
If Jones can maintain his seasonal double-double average the rest of the way, he will become the first Big East player to turn the trick since 2009-10, when ex-Friar Jermaine “Greedy” Peterson (19.6 ppg, 10.2 rebounds) and current Seton Hall senior Herb Pope (11.5 ppg, 10.7 rebounds) achieved the honor. He could also become just the third player in Big East history to have led the conference in scoring and rebounding in all games. Walter Berry of St. John’s (1985-86) averaged 23 points and 11.1 rebounds while Notre Dame’s Troy Murphy compiled 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in 1999-00.