Starting Point

A trio of familiar faces won't be suiting up for West Virginia's men's basketball team as it begins the 2010-11 season with an exhibition contest against UNC Pembroke tonight at the Coliseum, and the Mountaineers' head coach is interested in seeing how his team adjusts to life without three of the key players from last year's Final Four run.

Indeed, Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks are gone, each having been drafted into the ranks of the NBA. Wellington Smith had to travel a bit further to realize his dreams of playing professionally but found a spot to do so in Japan.

Now, a new group of Mountaineers will be trying to build on the momentum last season's team built in what was the most successful season in program history: a Big East Conference championship and a trip to the national semifinals.

But all the glitz and glamour of the team's last game, a loss to eventual national champion Duke in front of more than 75,000 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium, will be gone when WVU tips off against UNC Pembroke, a Division II school, tonight at 7:00 p.m.

The Braves are coming off a 9-18 season and trying to build a program under head coach Ben Miller, the son of Eldon Miller, the former Ohio State coach who gave Huggins a start in the profession by giving him a graduate assistant position with the Buckeyes in 1978.

While that reunion will make for a pleasant subplot, Huggins is all about business heading into the exhibition, as he hopes to see his team show progress from the way it has played in the opening weeks of practice.

"We need Friday in the worst way, to go out and play against other people," said the head coach, entering his fourth season on the bench at his alma mater. "You know, you get tired of banging against the same guys. You get tired of the same guys fouling you. We just need to play."

While the starting line-up may look substantially different from the one he used last season, Huggins hopes to see some of the same characteristics of last year's Mountaineers emerge from this edition.

Specifically, the future Hall of Famer expects his players to grow into strong defenders and rebounders like their predecessors. That will be key, even as Huggins hopes this squad could be better equipped to score in different ways, even without the services of Butler, Ebanks and Smith.

"I'd like for us to be able to run offense a little bit better than what we've run offense at this point," Huggins said, when asked about what he would be looking for in the exhibition game.

"We're certainly not where we need to be defensively. You know, I think a year ago, if you looked at our stats, our stats didn't look very good offensively. But we were probably as good a defensive team as their was in our league and we were the best rebounding team in our league -- particularly the best offensive rebounding team in our league. Those areas are not near where they were or where they need to be yet. There's a lot of things we've got to fix."

To that end, Huggins said his team would be rather bland in terms of what it runs on both ends of the floor, giving his players a chance to focus on fundamentals in live-action situations.

"We're not going to run a whole lot of offense, to be honest with you," said Huggins, who is 80-30 at WVU. "We're going to run some motion stuff, and if they play zone [defense], we'll run some zone stuff, but we're not going to get into sets and specific stuff like that very much."

"We're primarily a motion team, so we're going to run a lot of motion. We're primarily a man-to-man team, so we're going to play a lot of man-to-man."

He also said being relatively bland in terms of what his team runs might help to keep early-season opponents in the dark about what to expect from the Mountaineers.

"It's a good thing that we've reached the point where every game is on TV, but when you get to the point where every game is on TV, it also means your opponents get every game," Huggins said. "If they have more games to watch than what we have to watch, certainly they're going to be a bit more prepared than what we are."

West Virginia's exhibition contest won't be televised, but a video feed will be available on the school's official athletics web site, Tip-off is set for just after 7:00 p.m. at the Coliseum.

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