Early Challenge

Knowing his team would be facing stiff competition at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament in the second week of the season, WVU men's basketball coach Bob Huggins wanted to make sure his Mountaineers would be tested before heading off to San Juan. In the form of Oakland, they should get that test.

"I don't care for it much if we lose," Huggins said of his desire to schedule a tough match-up in the season-opener. "But I think we thought going to Puerto Rico as early as we're going to Puerto Rico, having to play who we'll have to play down there, we needed to get a good game under our belt. "I think certainly Oakland gives us that opportunity."

The Golden Grizzlies, from just outside of Detroit, Mich., come into the 2010-11 campaign riding high.

The Summit League school recorded a program-record 26 wins a season ago and fought with another Big East foe, Pitt, in the early stages of a first round NCAA Tournament game before losing a key player to injury in what was ultimately a 89-66 loss to the Panthers.

Before that, OU was enjoying a school-record 11-game winning streak and won 17 of its 18 Summit League outings, also a program-best.

With three seniors in the starting lineup returning from that squad, Oakland likely won't be intimidated by the atmosphere at the WVU Coliseum. It certainly helps that the Grizzlies went on the road in 2009-10 to play at Wisconsin, at then-No. 1 Kansas, at then-No. 12 Michigan State and at then-No. 5 Syracuse.

All of those games resulted in losses for coach Greg Kampe's squad, but they built a foundation that resulted in that strong season-ending run through the Summit League and into the NCAA Tournament.

"Greg's teams never are [intimidated]," said Huggins. "I've known him for a long time and his teams play really hard."

The fourth-year West Virginia head coach has beaten Kampe and Oakland in all three of his previous meetings with the Golden Grizzlies, all of which came when Huggins was on the bench at Cincinnati.

But those OU teams pale in comparison to the one that will visit the Coliseum for Friday night's 9:00 p.m. tip-off. After reviewing the film, Huggins knows that.

"We bring people in and I want them to be good games," he said. "And they're pretty good."

Oakland is led by center Keith Benson, a 6-foot-11, 230-pound fifth-year senior who averaged a double double (17.3 points, 10.5 rebounds per game) a season ago. Benson will provide a challenge for the rebuilt interior of the WVU line-up.

How much forward Kevin Jones (who, along with departed senior Wellington Smith, likely would have had to assume the bulk of the responsibility for guarding Benson last year) matches up with the Golden Grizzlies' best player and how much time goes to Mountaineer big men Deniz Kilicli and Dan Jennings remains to be seen.

"He's really good," Huggins said of Benson. "He's 6-11. He's really long. He blocks shots. He runs. He can score facing [the basket]. He can shoot the 3-[pointer]. He can shoot at 17 feet. He's good off the block. He's good."

While many top-tier college basketball teams will open up with a relatively easy contest to work out the kinks, Huggins knows his Mountaineers won't be afforded any opportunity to rest Friday night.

After all, OU will be gunning for an upset of a team that went to the Final Four last season to bolster its non-conference résumé, which also includes games against Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio State.

"It's a big deal, because you want to come in and win one of these," Huggins said of the underdog's perspective coming into this game. "I think if you come in and win a game like this or a game against Michigan State, somebody like that, if you happen to stumble in your conference tournament final, you probably still have a chance of getting an at-large [bid to the NCAA Tournament]. So it's a big game for them."


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