MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The preliminaries are over for West Virginia’s Top 10 basketball team.
It’s time to start the real season as Iowa State comes into the Coliseum for a rare Friday night game, facing the No. 7/8 Mountaineers at 9 p.m. in their Big 12 opener.
The game is being carried on ESPNU.
This is just the third time since joining the conference that West Virginia has been granted a home Big 12 opener, but fear not, the league isn’t doing any favors as come Tuesday in another 9 p.m. game the Mountaineers must travel to Lawrence, Kansas, to meet the Jayhawks in one of what figures to a be number of showdown games this season.
“This is a hard league,” Coach Bob Huggins stressed. “It’s hard for us because of where we are located. We’re the road warriors.”
Because WVU must travel more than any other team — a fact that is magnified this year as WVU opened with five games away from the Coliseum for just the third time in school history — home games become that much more crucial.
“We have to hold service at home,” Huggins said. “It’s more important for us because the others don’t have to go through what we do.”
Being without fans doesn’t help, not even with cardboard cutout “fans” in the stands, although at least to guard Taz Sherman they provide something of a lift.
“It’s a whole new look,” Sherman admitted. “It gives us a little scenery. I like the idea and hope everyone does it.”
“My favorite is the dog somewhere behind our bench,” Sherman said. “I caught myself staring at the dog when we played North Texas.”
The dog days are over, though, as league play requires full concentration and this Iowa State game is one that presents some psychological challenges, seeing as Iowa State is 1-3 and comes off a stunning home upset loss to Kansas State, whom everyone in the league had written off after the Wildcats lost to Fort Hayes State, a Division 2 team, at home.
Add to that the fact that the big Kansas showdown is just two days away and that WVU has just moved into the Top 10 and you have a challenging coaching job for Huggins.
Huggins certainly will make certain his team aware that at this early date in the Big 12 season, conference road teams are 3-0, a trend that well may continue in this fan-void atmosphere.
“We definitely miss the crowd,” guard Deuce McBride, the team’s leading scorer, admits. “I think last year I’d never been an arena as loud as it was when I threw down that dunk against Baylor and I think one of the things that kept us going was the crowd. When you’re down, the crowd brings us back. They never give up on us. It makes it hard, so we have to create our own energy to keep it going and keep control.”
One way they have discovered to do that recently has been by bringing back their own version of “Press Virginia.” The last two games, against North Texas and against No 19 Richmond, Huggins pressed and it had a big effect on the outcome.
“That’s one of our strengths,” McBride said of the press. “We will be scoring off turnovers and in transition.. If we know we can get points of that it will take a little pressure off our half-court offense.”
“With our athletes we can speed people up,” Sherman added. “It gets easy when you are scoring fast break points. We can incorporate the press every ow and then and get people to do what we want them to do.”
WVU comes into the game off its best performance of the year against Richmond, with the shooters displaying a hot hand after struggling some through the early going.
McBride, Sherman and Sean McNeil all were hitting from both long range and mid-range, something that makes the game far easier on Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe down low. Huggins believes his team is capable of shooting like that on a consistent basis but he hasn’t seen it yet.
“The battle is consistency,” he admitted. “We are going to have games where we really shoot it. Sean and Taz are really shooting good and Emmitt Matthews has been shooting consistently well.”
Iowa State comes in with four starters in double figures and having shown an ability to score points but the defense has been suspect and they have turned the ball over quite a bit.
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