MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins says he likes bringing good teams into the WVU Coliseum. Well, a good team is coming to the Coliseum on Friday night.
Oakland may not have name recognition, but anyone who closely follows college basketball knows what type of program Greg Kampe has in Rochester, Mich. Last year Oakland won 26 games, including 20 of their last 21, and advanced to the NCAA tournament where it was playing nose-to-nose with Pitt before guard Derick Nelson was hit in the head and had to leave the game.
The Panthers ended up winning by 23, but it did so by exerting maximum effort. Oakland center Keith Benson gave Pitt all kind of trouble in the paint, going for 28 points and grabbing nine boards against the Panthers. Benson also scored 20 against Kansas center Cole Aldrich while holding him to just four.
Five NBA scouts will be in Morgantown on Friday night to watch Benson play. Last year as a junior he averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
“He’s really good,” said Huggins. “He’s 6-11; he’s really long; he blocks shots; he runs; he can score facing the basket; he can shoot the 3; he’s good off the block – he’s just really good.”
Benson is also adept at getting to the foul line, something Huggins is concerned about.
“We’ve got to do a good job of making him score over us,” he said. “We’ve just got to do a good job of making him score through a chest.”
West Virginia is expecting a big crowd for Friday’s opener, but Oakland is certainly used to playing in hostile environments. This year the Golden Grizzlies have games scheduled against Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio State. Huggins said Oakland will not be in awe of the WVU Coliseum of Friday night.
“Greg’s teams never are,” he said. “I’ve known him for a long time and his teams play really hard.”
Huggins explained that Friday’s game is important to Oakland because a win would increase its margin of error when it gets into conference play.
“It’s a big deal for them because you want to come in here and win one of these,” he said. “If you come in and win a game like this, Michigan State or somebody like that, if you happen to stumble in your conference tournament final you probably still have a chance of getting an at-large.”
The game is important to West Virginia because it gives the Mountaineers a quality opponent to go up against before going down to Puerto Rico next weekend.
“We thought going to Puerto Rico as early as we are and having to play who we have to play down there we felt like we needed to get a really good game under our belt and I think Oakland certainly gives us that opportunity,” Huggins said.
Huggins was not very happy with the way his team performed during last Friday’s exhibition win against UNC Pembroke and he has been searching for more consistency this week from some of his younger players.
“We just haven’t been very consistent,” he said. “K.J. (Kevin Jones) has been very consistent; John Flowers, Truck (Bryant) and (Joe) Mazzulla, but the rest of them they have their ups and downs.”
And that includes talented sophomore Deniz Kilicli, who will have a big challenge Friday night guarding Benson.
“(Deniz) is up and down. He has days where he goes and rebounds everything and keeps balls alive and then he has days when he doesn’t rebound,” said Huggins. “We’re searching to get consistent play out of a lot of people really, not just Deniz.”
Having Jones on the wing will certainly help Kilicli and Jennings when Oakland tries to isolate Benson on them.
“Kevin is pretty smart. He knows how to play and he doesn’t make dumb fouls,” Huggins said. “Generally you get into foul trouble when you make a dumb one. My dad always used to ask me, ‘How many fouls do you get?’ At first I said five and he said, ‘No you get four – the fifth one you’re out.’ You can’t waste any.”
Oakland is not just a one-man show. Returning guard Larry Wright averaged 11 points and 2.5 rebounds per game last year while 6-9 forward Will Hudson showed averages of 6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
The Golden Grizzlies have won 49 games the last two seasons and were the unanimous pick to win the Summit League this year.
Tipoff is set for approximately 9 p.m. following the WVU women’s game against Loyola, Maryland. Both games will be televised nationally on ESPN3.com.
Notes: Earlier today the Mountaineer Ticket Office announced that advance ticket sales for Friday’s doubleheader have been halted. A very limited number of tickets will be available at the Blue Gate tomorrow on game day … West Virginia has won 49 of its last 51 regular-season non-conference games at the Coliseum, including 30 in a row … The Mountaineers are 64-11 overall against non-conference teams during the last six seasons … Yesterday, Huggins announced his five-player signing class and today he talked a little bit about them, “When you recruit you try and fill your needs and losing Da’Sean and Devin last year – and we’ll losing Casey and John this year – we needed wings, and we wanted to get wings with some length that we can hopefully be able to do the kinds of things we did a year ago with our defense,” he said. “I think we accomplished that. Thos guys are long. They will upgrade our athleticism and they’re all really good kids.”