A year ago, West Virginia suffered five losses during its November-December stretch, dropping close contests to Gonzaga and Purdue at home as well as suffering setbacks to Missouri, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin away from the Coliseum. This year's slate sets up a bit easier, with LSU, N.C. State and a potential tournament final against UConn or Dayton on the schedule. That alone is a bit better than last year, but it's also the spacing of road trips and preponderance of in-state games that should help.
Of WVU's 13 non-conference games, eight will be played in state. Three of the road games come over a four-day stretch in Puerto Rico, leaving only a short trip to Northern Kentucky and a hop to New York City (N.C. State) on the long travel itinerary. The Mountaineers also get a pair of very winnable games to open the season (Monmouth, Lafayette) before embarking on the Puerto Rico trip, but then return to the Mountain State for games against VMI (Charleston), the College of Charleston and LSU.
By no means is this portion of the schedule a cakewalk, but it does give WVU several chances to build momentum. A good showing in Puerto Rico could get WVU off to a 6-1 or better start, giving it a chance to push the 20-win mark this season.
This view is also backed up by that of WVU head coach Bob Huggins, who likes the preponderance of home and in-state games. While Huggins has never avoided the challenge of playing on the road against tough competition, he also knows that his rebuilding team could benefit from home crowd support and some early wins. Confidence will be a key for this year's team, and nothing boosts that like wins.
* * * * *The Big 12 portion of the schedule is always going to be difficult no matter how it's laid out, but the league did again help the Mountaineers with their travel schedule. Two pairs of road games will be covered with a single trip each, knocking down the potential total of nine long flights to seven, and the first of those comes while WVU is still on winter break. That trip (TCU on Jan. 3 and Texas Tech on Jan. 5) could also allow WVU to bag two early league wins, just as it did a year ago. The other, coming at the end of the year against Kansas and Baylor, provides more difficult opposition, but also prevents an extra trip from Morgantown to Kansas just prior to the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
Of course, there are negatives. With some of its "easier" games at the front of the schedule (TCU and Texas Tech are both completed by the end of January), the Mountaineers face a rugged final month. A stretch of Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas looms over just 13 days in February, and WVU again has Kansas as its penultimate game of the Big 12 regular season. While that is difficult, it's hard to complain about, given the concessions made to WVU's travel schedule.
Overall, the schedule is good enough to avoid any major RPI concerns, yet balanced enough to give WVU a chance to revers its downward trend. A double-digit win total in out-of-conference play isn't out of the question, and a knockoff of a Dayton or LSU would boost confidence greatly. Then it's the Big 12 grind, where nine or ten wins would likely get the Mountaineers back to the NCAA tournament. That's a long way off, but the path to success is clearly laid out.