Optimistic Opposition

One would imagine that few "mid-major" teams come into the WVU Coliseum to face a Bob Huggins-coached squad coming off a Final Four appearance and feel confident in their chances to spring an upset. But that's exactly what Cam Thoroughman expects from Cleveland State this afternoon.

A WVU team that was ranked No. 6 in the nation at the time and ultimately bested some of college basketball's powerhouse programs on the way to the national semifinals needed a last-second layup from star forward Da'Sean Butler to avoid dropping a road game at Cleveland State last December.

"They're very well-coached, and last year, they gave us a lot of problems with the press," Thoroughman recalled. "I think we were up 17 points last year, and they pressed and got back into the game. It was a mix of us missing shots, them making shots and us turning the ball over down the stretch."

So after last year's near-miss in an 80-78 decision at the Wolstein Center and a 12-0 start to the 2010-11 campaign, the Vikings have plenty of reason to come into this afternoon's game with the belief that they could earn a significant victory for their program.

"I'm sure they will," Thoroughman said, when asked if he thought CSU players might have last year's close loss on their minds. "They're 12-0 as well, so they have a lot of confidence coming into this game. I'm sure they feel confident, and this might be their first big game of the year, so they'll want to do good. I think they're going to come in here very confident."

But all the faith in the world wouldn't do anything for Cleveland State if it wasn't capable of playing at a high level. The undefeated Vikings have experience on their side, as the majority of the key contributors from last year's squad are back.

Most importantly for head coach Gary Wayers' squad, Norris Cole is up to his old tricks again. The guard scored 29 points in last year's meeting with the Mountaineers, and he's averaging 21.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game thus far in his senior season.

"They got a couple of really good players," Thoroughman noted. "Norris Cole is putting up really good numbers this year, so he's definitely going to be a key to their offense."

But CSU also has a post presence that could present some problems for head coach Bob Huggins and company. Aaron Pogue, a 6-foot-9, 275-pound junior, is back after scoring 11 critical points and grabbing five rebounds (four of which came on the offensive end) a year ago against the Mountaineers.

Thoroughman may end up matched up with Pogue at times in this afternoon's contest. But even if Huggins opts to combat Cleveland State's size with his own (in the form of either Deniz Kilicli or Dan Jennings), the other Vikings front-court players could also prove to be a challenge for Thoroughman and his WVU teammates.

While Waters starts a three-guard lineup (including Cole and teammates Trevon Harmon and Jeremy Montgomery, both of whom also average double figures), the team's forwards aren't afraid to step out and shoot from 3-point range either.

That could test the ability of West Virginia's big men to extend defensively without yielding dribble penetration to the quicker guards.

"The big guy down low really takes up a lot of space," Thoroughman said of Pogue. "He scores points whenever they get him the ball and he gets offensive rebounds. The four-man, he steps out. He can shoot some 3s. They do a little bit of everything down there, but they're mainly guard-oriented."

And while the Vikings will be looking to exact a measure of revenge after yielding Butler's easy game-winner with 1.2 seconds left last year, the Mountaineers will also have something to prove.

They come into this afternoon's match-up still searching for answers after a lethargic first half in their last outing against Duquesne nearly cost them in what was ultimately a 64-61 win over the Dukes at the Consol Energy Center last Sunday night.

After that game, Huggins publicly questioned the commitment and effort of his players, and that theme continued in his pregame meeting with the media on Friday morning. Thoroughman, known as a player who brings intensity to the floor when he checks in, said time is running short for WVU to learn Huggins' lessons.

"We've got to start turning things around," the forward from Portsmouth, Ohio said. "We've got to play 40 minutes. If we're going to be a good team throughout the Big East this year, we're going to have to start doing that, so I think it's very important we get started with that, and we might as well start [against Cleveland State]."

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