I’ve never had the patience for soccer or chess. I have ADD and am too impatient to let something evolve over time. But watching Bob Huggins develop his young Mountaineer basketball squad is changing some of that for me. I’m actually intrigued to see Huggs work the bench, moving players into varying situations to see if they have the chutzpah to step up their games quickly. The hope would be that those we thought were only capable of being "Pawns" actually turn out to be "Rooks." Huggs' coaching is what makes these early season tuneup games interesting.
In Kevin Jones, WVU has a solid, dependable, proverbial "King" piece. In Tuesday night's game, however, I’m keeping a close eye on two other veterans: Truck Bryant & Deniz Kilicli. If WVU has any intention of navigating its way through conference play with a winning record, getting a top eight seed in the Big East Tournament, or receiving an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, these two players have to take it to a new level. They have to live up to their roles as destructive pieces of the game board.
Truck has been moved back to the 2-guard spot and needs to quickly get comfortable draining 3-pointers (he’s only 20% from behind the arc through three games). Deniz has to start beating some people up, as Kevin Jones can’t carry the weight of the boards himself (KJ averages almost twice as many rebounds per game). It would also help if Deniz' turnover to assist ratio weren’t 3:1.
Morehead State University is a Division 1 basketball program that lost a pre-season exhibition game to another West Virginia team. No, not Marshall; Mountain State from the NAIA. Granted, Mountain State has historically been a quality NAIA program (2004 NAIA National Champs and runner up twice in the last decade), but beating Morehead State marked the first time in their program history that they'd beaten a D-1 school.
Needless to say, Morehead State is another tune up opportunity, and the first of two games that WVU will play in the Charleston Civic Center (we play Marshall there in January). Morehead State University (1-2) lost by 30 to NC State and followed that up with a 15-point loss to the College of Charleston. They finally notched a win with a 100-48 drumming of Asbury – another NAIA school.
Barring any monumentally stupid moves on our part, we’ll win Tuesday night's chess match. But to win future contests against better competition, we’ll need our veterans to be able to pull off the necessary moves.