Bob Huggins faces his old team as Cincinnati comes calling in Morgantown.
This afternoon at three pm, just after the city of Morgantown digs itself out from underneath another batch of winter snow, things will heat up under the concrete dome of the Coliseum. The Cincinnati Bearcats come to town as the Big East Conference's biggest surprise, boasting a 5-1 conference record and second place in the Big East standings. Here's what to watch for as Coach Huggins takes on his former employer:
- Deniz Kilicli's ankle. Kilicli rolled his ankle in practice before Wednesday night's capital classic and was unable to play against the Thundering Herd. While WVU coasted without the Turk in the lineup, there's tougher sledding ahead against the Bearcats. The Mountaineers will be forced to contend with Yancy Gates down low and will need all the big bodies they can get. On the offensive side of the ball, it will give the Mountaineers fewer options down low and allow Cincinnati to turn the full focus of their defense on Kevin Jones. While both Dominique Rutledge and Kevin Noreen played well in Kilicli's absence, neither are the kind of player you can trust to get things done against an all conference talent like Gates. How WVU fares in the physical battle in the paint will dictate whether or not Mountaineer fans go home happy.
- Can WVU go small? Against Marshall, the Mountaineers found the most success when they played all three of their guards at the same time. The trio of Truck Bryant, Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds were able to both score the ball and execute good offensive sets. While this worked against Conference USA competition, it may not be as successful against other Big East teams. All three WVU guards are slightly undersized, but it's not too much of a liability for the 'Eers if their shots are going in. One of them will be forced to slow down Cincy sophomore sensation Sean Kilpatrick who has been hot from downtown of late. If the Mountaineers try to pack the lane too much, Kilpatrick could make them pay with his deep shooting.
- A crucial game on the schedule. West Virginia gets Cincy at home and St. John's on the road before travelling next week to take on the nation's number one team in the Carrier Dome. As far as keeping pace with the rest of the conference, today's game is huge. The Mountaineers need to protect their homecourt to buy themselves some breathing room for next week's road trip to up state New York. If WVU can hold serve at home and pick up a road win at St. John's, this team could be brimming with confidence by the time they have to face Boeheim's boys.