As the Mountaineer football team prepares to take on Big East-leading Cincinnati tomorrow, the basketball team tips off its season tonight at home against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles from the Summit League. There are previews abound, including this Blue Ribbon Preview from ESPN.com. So I'll leave the techinal stuff to people who are a lot more knowledgeable than I am about college basketball.
From a fan's perspective, thuogh, this game has me concerned. And no, it's not just the fact that we lost at home in an exhibition against D-2 Northern Kentucky last Friday night. That game was played without the services of Deniz Kilicli, who figures to play a key role in WVU's suceess this year. Also, though I didn't actually see the exhibition, I understand that Huggins did a number of things against the Norse that he wouldn't do in a normal game, including playing different defenses and combinations of players to see what might work. Plus, NKU was red hot from behind the arc, which is basically what won the game for them.
What I'm really concerned about, at least tonight, is Oral Roberts. This is a team that made the NCAA tournament three consecutive years from 2006-2008 (although they have yet to return since). They were 19-16 a year ago against a very difficult schedule, losing to eventual Summit champ Oakland in the conference semifinals. They have a quality coach, Scott Sutton (son of legendary Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton and disciple of current Kansas coach Bill Self), and an outstanding senior forward, Dominique Morrison, who is garnering national attention. They have a ton of seniors (six, to be precise), who will be sure to play fundamentally sound and smart basketball. That combination could be trouble for a WVU team trotting out so many true freshmen who will be bound to make mistakes as they adjust to the college game.
WVU does figure to have a few advantages in addition to playing on its home court. Although ORU is experienced in the starting lineup, the bench is comprised of mostly freshmen, who will almost certainly be less prepared to contribute than WVU's cadre of youngsters. WVU also has the advantage in athleticism, with guys like Aaron Brown, Jabarie Hinds, and Tommie McCune holding a distinct physical advantage over their counterparts. Speaking of Hinds, he and fellow PG Gary Browne should have a leg up over ORU's revolving door at the point after the Golden Eagle's projected starter injured his ACL in practice last week and is out for the season. Finally, the Mountaineers will have the best player on the floor in Kevin Jones and a potentially unstoppable inside presence in Kilicli.A few things that I'll be interested to see tonight (And by see, I mean read about tomorrow morning since I'll be traveling to Cincinnati for tomorrow's football game and unable to access ESPN3 to watch the game.):
Is Deniz Kilicli finally ready to be a major contributer? He's shown stretches of both awesomeness and lameassery, often in the same game. He can kill opposing teams with his baby hook and post moves, and kill WVU with his slow feet and propensity to foul. As the freshmen take time to get used to collegiate play, the Turk will have to provide consistency.
How will the Mountaineers' young point guards, Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne, fare in a platoon? Will one of them emerge to take control of the team? How do they interact with the old guard of Truck Bryant (who will be adjusting to his new role as a shooting guard), Kevin Jones, and Kilicli?
Can the new players' athleticism make up for their lack of experience, at least until they get their feet wet? One advantage of playing nonconference games early in the year is to give players time to gel. Until that point, the team is going to have to get by on its talent alone. Given the difficulty of the Mountaineers' nonconference schedule, I'm not sure how successful WVU will be early on.
Whither Huggs' treadmill? Huggs is getting older and with so many new faces, how much patience will the boss show when his youngsters inevitably foul up? I can see him putting up with more mistakes from guys who just need to be on the floor and get a feel for the game. I can't see him, however, tolerating a lack of effort or hustle by anyone, new or old. Ultimately, I believe this will be an NCAA tournament team. I just don't think they will look like one until well into the season.
Leave your comments here and in the game thread later tonight and let us know what you think!