MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - After playing a rough early season schedule, West Virginia’s slate gets even tougher beginning with tonight’s always-difficult game against Marshall in Charleston in the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic.
After tonight, the Mountaineers have a pair of unbeaten teams coming up in Virginia Tech and Michigan while in between, comes a meeting at Duquesne.
“I said when we came in here that we were going to upgrade the schedule and continue to play people,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “If you look at this year’s schedule and what we’re doing next year, it’s not any easier next year - maybe harder, but the theory is it does make you better down the stretch and it makes you more prepared. Sometimes it can screw with guy's confidence a little bit and gets into their heads and you hope that doesn’t happen. I don’t think it has.”
All of these games will be beneficial to West Virginia – provided the Mountaineers, now 2-3 after last week’s victory over VMI, can find a way to win them.
“My year in the Big 12 (at Kansas State) we finished fourth in the league and they took four teams (to the NCAA tournament) and we weren’t one of the four, and I think to a large degree that’s because we went to New Mexico and got slaughtered and we went to Cal and got slaughtered,” said Huggins. “We didn’t play near as hard a schedule as what we are now. Even though Oklahoma wasn’t a league loss, it was certainly a loss to someone who wasn’t in the league, so that doesn’t help you any. We need to win games … I don’t think there is any doubt about that.”
And that begins with tonight’s game against 5-3 Marshall. According to Huggins, there is one common thread in all five of Marshall’s victories this year – dominance on the glass. Marshall entered this week 13th in the nation averaging 42.8 rebounds per game and is tied for 14th on the offensive glass grabbing 16.1 per game. Despite that, overall Marshall’s rebounding margin is plus-six and that’s because in Marshall’s three losses it is a combined minus-15 in those games.
“They are a terrific rebounding team,” said Huggins. “I think in their five wins they have out-rebounded their opponents by 12 a game. That’s like plus-60. We haven’t out-rebounded anybody. We haven’t out-rebounded ourselves in practice.”
Huggins said earlier this week that he expects to have sophomore forward Kevin Noreen
(ankle) available for tonight’s game, but he isn’t sure if senior Dominique Rutledge
(also an ankle) will be able to go. Also, Matt Humphrey
(shoulder) should also be ready after missing West Virginia’s last game against VMI.
“He could have played against VMI last week, but why risk it?” said Huggins.
Junior guard DeAndre Kane leads Marshall in scoring with an average of 16 points per game, but Huggins says Marshall’s offense runs through 6-8, 232-pound senior forward Dennis Tinnon, who is averaging 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per outing. Tinnon scored six points and grabbed 10 rebounds in last year’s game against West Virginia and earlier this year matched his career-high with 24 points in a win against Nevada.
Junior forward Elijah Pittman (14 ppg.) and junior guard D.D. Scarver (13.9 ppg.) also have the ability to score. Nigel Spikes, a 6-10, 240-pound senior, is proficient on the glass and has the ability to block some shots.
“Tinnon has been terrific, I think he’s getting nine rebounds a game again and he was at like almost 11 a year ago when we played them,” said Huggins. “Kane has been great. I think he had 63 (assists) going into Saturday night’s game. That’s a bunch. He’s averaging almost 10 assists a game. And they’ve recruited some guys who can make shots on the wing with size. And they’ve made big shots for them.”Juwan Staten
scored a season-high 18 points in West Virginia’s 94-69 win over VMI on Nov. 28 and at 10.8 points per game, he is one of only two players currently averaging double figures for the Mountaineers. The other is forward Aaric Murray
, who is averaging 10.2 points per game. The 6-10 junior also leads the team with an average of seven rebounds per game. The Mountaineers (2-3) currently have seven players averaging at least 6.3 points per game.
“We’re getting better,” said Huggins.
The veteran coach is looking for even more progress beginning with tonight’s game against Marshall and continuing on toward a Dec. 15 meeting against third-ranked Michigan in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I knew Marshall was going to be good. They have the majority of their team back. Tech has the majority of their players back. I think they have had the misfortune of being hurt the last few years and have not been able to put everybody out there and they’ve stayed relatively healthy, which is a big part of it,” said Huggins. “These are great games to play, but you’ve got to win them.”
There are tickets still available for the game and they can be purchased through the Charleston Civic Center box office by calling 304-345-7469x0.
Tipoff for tonight’s game is 7:30 p.m. and the contest can been seen throughout West Virginia on the Capital Classic Network. The game will also be carried on ESPN Full Court as well as online on ESPN3.