Tonight the WVU Men’s Basketball team squares off against its first ranked opponent when they face 24th ranked Mississippi State in Starkville, MS. Don’t let MSU’s10-point loss to Akron (a team we beat handily) fool you; the Bulldogs (7-1) are the real deal, convincingly dropping two top-20 teams (Texas A&M and Arizona) on their way to winning the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament last month. Coach Huggins thinks guard Dee Bost is one of the best in the SEC, and the Bulldogs' front line boasts a 6'11" center and 6'10" forward.
As well, MSU has out-rebounded all eight of this year's opponents. The Mountaineers are pretty good on the boards, too, ranked 18th in the nation. We can count on Kevin Jones to continue pounding the glass, however, the jury is still out on whether Deniz Kilicli can take his inside game to the next level. As Lucy promised Charlie Brown that she wouldn't pull the football away when he attempted to kick it, I continue to anticipate the fulfillment of Deniz’s great inside promise. To date, I've been continuously lying flat on my back, playing Mountaineer Charlie to Ki'Lucy – as "Big Turk" refuses to deliver on being a BIG presence in the paint.
While I’m admittedly hard on Deniz, he is reinforcing the stereotype that European BIGS are great shooters, passers and teammates, but soft when it comes to contact. Kilicli’s friggin’ huge, and not just on TV. In person he is taller and just as wide as any player on WVU’s football team. In fact, we could use him on the line. While he isn’t aggressive enough to line up next to Bruce Irvin & Co., I do think his footwork could make him a great blind side tackle.
The Mississippi State game will show us two important things: (1) How well we can play in front of a national audience in prime-time; and (2) How well we can play on the road. A victory against the Bulldogs could be a confidence booster as our young and talented team prepares for conference play.
The game is on ESPN U at 9:00 p.m., Eastern time. As always, the Smoking Musket will have a game thread.