The great thing, to me, about college basketball is that they play a lot of games. Once the season gets rolling, there's no stopping it. Every three or four days, it's time to lace 'em up. So as the season picks up steam, I get more and more excited until they play every day (or other day) in March and hopefully April. Early in the season, Mountaineer fans are treated to a variety of interesting non-conference match-ups, and today is no different. This afternoon, WVU heads into the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Florida to face a former Big East foe, the Miami Hurricanes.
Now, this might not have the same excitement as if the football teams squared off, but it's great that Bob Huggins has the team on the road in the ACC this early in the season. While not the cream of the conference, the 'Canes are 5-2 and are coming off a 13-point victory against Huggins' boy Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss. How will they stack up against Big East competition? The Hurricanes lost by nineteen two weeks ago at Rutgers. I guess that speaks for itself.
So far, the Mountaineers' haven't been the dominating rebounding team they should be and a lot of possessions have resembled bad volleyball games. The Hurricanes' 6-foot-10 center Reggie Johnson could pose problems for the big men. Averaging a double-double, Johnson leads the way for the 'Canes down low, and Huggins will probably defend him with a blend of John Flowers, Kevin Jones and Cam Thoroughman. If the Mountaineer big men can push him away from the basket, then Johnson shouldn't be able to do too much damage.
Shooting guard Casey Mitchell will be counted on to continue his hot shooting streak because, frankly, he's carrying the load. He's downed more than 25 points in each of the last four games, a feat that hasn't been seen around these parts in a long time. His game off of the bounce shows amazing growth, and right now he's the only Mountaineer who can ring the bell in multiple ways. While Mitchell's scoring outburst in Puerto Rico was shocking, by now it's simply expected to happen. For now, and for the rest of the season, when the Mountaineers need points, the ball needs to be in Mitchell's hands.
Kevin Jones is improving his shooting touch, and I expect him to move downhill the rest of the year, so I'm not worried there. What this contest in Miami represents at this early juncture is a great opportunity for a third option to step up for the Mountaineers. Before the season, I was convinced that scorer would be Deniz Kilicli, but it's obvious right now that The Turk is still a project. John Flowers can score, but he makes such a difference in the rebounding/defense/general hustle game, I don't really care if he does anything else. What the Mountaineers need is a focused and persistent Truck Bryant. If Truck can get into the paint and attack the basket, then the Hurricane defense will be forced to open up. When that happens, everything gets easier for everybody.
Despite not being the key point of the contest, I'm still watching Kevin Noreen. I'm a sucker for freshmen who probably shouldn't even be in the game. He and Danny Jennings seemed to be both auditioning for the role of back-up forward and each brings great hustle to the court when they get a chance. If one of them can turn into an every game contributor, then the Mountaineers might have found the third option that they've been looking for.
At the end of the day, here's to Huggins for loading the early season schedule with big conference programs. I expect the Mountaineers to come back north with a victory, and hopefully a few more answers.