The 2010-11 Men's Basketball season has finally made it to Morgantown! The Mountaineers open this season at home against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. Last season ended in intoxicating fashion, with the Mountaineers running off nine wins in a row to win the Big East Tournament and earn a trip to the Final Four. This season, things look different in Morgantown, with DaSean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith departing from last year's squad, with no notable additions to replace them. Instead, the nucleus of last year's team will be called upon to gel quickly, without its former leaders, and make another run deep into March. Here are some things to mull over about tonight's contest...
- Who the hell are the Oakland Golden Grizzlies?!?!? Well, first off, that's in Michigan, not California or Maryland. This Oakland team qualified for last season's NCAA tournament and put up a fight against the Pitt Panthers in the first round, before being outlasted by WVU's arch-rivals. Oakland prides itself on playing great early-season competition and has a series of games lined up this season against major programs such as Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Tennessee. The Bears are led by 6-foot-11 center Keith Benson, who has attracted the attention of a bevy of NBA scouts. Benson is an all-around player who excels at almost everything he does. He will likely keep Kevin Jones, Deniz Kilicli and Danny Jennings busy all night in the paint.
- Who emerges as the Mountaineers on-court leader this season? What was comforting about last year's team was knowing at all times that when the going got tough, the ball got to Da'Sean Butler. This year, the on-court leadership still needs figured out. Most likely Kevin Jones will be this team's best player, but Jones is a laid back player who has shied away from giving orders in the past. I'll be looking to Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant to lead the show, both running the offense and making sure people are in position on the defensive end.
- Which Mountaineer makes the biggest strides forward this season? Right now, my money's on Dalton Pepper. Pepper excelled at catching and shooting as a freshman, but has bulked up in the off-season in hopes of being a presence in all aspects of the offense. If Pepper can develop a running one-handed shot a la Adrian Pledger, he could develop into one of the conference's best two guards. I also expect Deniz Kilicli to continue his ascension as a dominant force on offense. If he can develop his rebounding and his defense he will be as formidable of a forward as you will find in the country.
- What sort of rotation will emerge? The value of a game like this one is it allows Huggins the flexibility to fidget with his rotation. While Huggins has never adhered to a rigid substitution style, this year there's incredible depth at shooting guard and the forward positions. Who gets on the court, and when, will probably have to do more with who's hot at any given moment. That said, Huggins subbed five at a time for most of the exhibition game, so who sees serious minutes outside the starting five is anybody's guess.
- Can Morgantown handle all these sporting events? Seriously. Within 24 hours there will be Men's and Women's home basketball games, a home football game, a volleyball game, a home NCAA Tournament Women's soccer match, and a state high school football playoff game. If you take away the WVU football game, which is at noon tomorrow, all those event happen within a six hour window of time. Choose your parking accordingly.
Enjoy the weekend folks! I'll be back tomorrow morning with a recap of what went down at the Coliseum tonight as I prepare to head to the stadium. It's a busy weekend to be a Mountaineer wherever you may be (but especially if you're in Morgantown!)