The West Virginia Mountaineer men's basketball team faces it's first true road test of the season tonight as they travel to Starkville, MI to face off with the 21st ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs. West Virginia has yet to leave the friendly confines of the Mountain State so far this season, so tonight's game will be the first real gauge of where these young Mountaineers are this season. Here's what I'm watching:
- How the 'Eers deal with Bulldog big man Arnett Moultrie. The Mountaineers will have to navigate a Big East conference stacked with quality post players, but have yet to really cut their teeth against one so far this season. The 6-11 forward will likely give the Mountaineers fits, and it will be interesting to see how they deal with him. Kevin Jones has played like an all-American so far this year, averaging 21 and 12, but he hasn't really had any competition in the paint. It will be interesting to see if Jones can be as productive offensively with Moultrie in his face. Defensively, Deniz Kilicli has been plagued by foul trouble and often resorts to a blatant mugging of bigger, stronger opponents. Whether the Turk can keep Moultrie in check, and whether Jones can still get his points over the big man, will be two key matchups to watch. Almost more importantly, can reserve forwards Kevin Noreen and Pat Forsythe hold their ground when they see the court?
- The continuing development of the Mountaineer freshman. Monday night's win at home against Akron signified the coming out party for highly touted freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds. In a brief stretch at the end of the first half, Hinds took over the ballgame and put it far out of reach from the Zips. Hinds arrived on campus as the most anticipated freshman of the 2011-12 season and his performance showed why. Fellow freshman Keaton Miles, who starts alongside Hinds, has yet to break out and Mountaineer fans are eagerly anticipating the day. A rangy forward with obviously top flight athleticism, Miles has seemed tentative on the court so far in his young career. This road trip, against real competition, will be Miles' opportunity to begin asserting himself. It may be harder for upperclassmen Jones and Kilicli to get the results they have been getting, so they may need MIles' help.
- Can Truck get on track? Senior guard Truck Bryant has a new role this season, after ceding point guard duties to freshmen Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne. It was assumed, throughout Mountaineer nation, that switching Truck off the ball would let his scoring blossom. While he's been averaging 14 points per game, second best on the team, it has taken quite a few missed shots to get there. Truck's outside shooting seems as streaky as ever, and he still hasn't found success slashing to the basket. For West Virginia to be able to hang, Truck is going to have to light the scoreboard, without giving the opposition too many bonus possesions.
The Mountaineers and Bulldogs square off tonight at 9:00 PM, from Starkville, Mississippi on ESPNU.