There’s no doubt that WVU head coach Bob Huggins is unafraid to take on tough competition. One of his standard stories involves former Marquette coach Al McGuire telling him that he knew his team had arrived when it walked into tough road venues without fear or trepidation. That’s a good description, but it’s also possible for a team to overschedule, especially if it is a young or rebuilding group still working to figure out how all of its pieces fit together. West Virginia has some of that as it enters the year, but it also has a core group of players who have been through Big 12 wars. Will that be enough to face a slate that has a pair of tough non-league stretches – not to mention the rigors of the Big 12 road?
WVU starts the regular season with a pair of winnable games against Monmouth and Lafayette, but quickly enters what could be a very difficult Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Ever-dangerous George Mason, likely followed by tough New Mexico will make the trip difficult enough, and if WVU gets by those games, it will likely end up with UConn or Dayton in the final. A 2-1 record would be a very good accomplishment for the rebuilt Mountaineers over this three game tournament.
WVU plays just one true road game in its 13 non-conference contests, but has six neutral site games.
A second difficult stretch looms beginning Dec. 4, when the Mountaineers face LSU, followed by away from home games against Northern Kentucky, Marshall and N.C. State. The annual Herd battle falls right in the middle of finals, making prep for that game, as well as the trip to New York City for the Gotham Classic against N.C. State, a bit problematic. WVU winds up the semester with two winnable games at home against Wofford and Virginia Tech, but those might not be gimmes, especially given last year’s meltdown against the Hokies.
In all, WVU plays just six of its 13 non-conference games at the Coliseum. VMI in Charleston is something of a home game, as is the Herd confrontation, but there’s no doubt that the Mountaineers will get some experience in playing away from its home venue. More surprisingly, only one of those 13 is a true road game, so it’s not as if the team will get overwhelmed by opposing crowds in November and December. All in all, the non-conference slate offers good challenges, without the potential of burying a still-developing Mountaineer squad. Ten wins in the 13 game stretch would be an excellent outcome.
Road tests begin in earnest with the turn of the calendar, as WVU again hits the road for games against TCU and Texas Tech to start the Big 12 conference season. As the semester doesn’t begin until Jan. 12, the Mountaineers will be able to knock out two of their nine road games with one trip, just as they did a year ago. Another combined trip will likely close the road season as WVU travels to Baylor and Kansas for games separated by just three days (Feb 28 – Mar 3). The Mountaineers don’t have any other consecutive road games during the year, which lessens the effect of travel on the team.
The TCU/TT opening swing gives WVU a chance to get off on the right foot early, and it will have to do so, as an Iowa State/Oklahoma/Texas string awaits following the road double dip. The league schedule is also backloaded, as the Mountaineers will have faced TCU and Tech again at home by the end of January. A grinding stretch over the last eight games features a pair of games against both Kansas and Oklahoma State, as well as Texas and Iowa State tilts. By then, WVU’s newcomers must have settled into their roles, and they'll need every bit of the experience they have earned to date, because getting wins against that schedule won’t be easy.
West Virginia will always have the travel problem to deal with in the league, but conference officials have clearly done everything they can to minimize those effects. The Mountaineers know they have to deal with a few late flights back to West Virginia with classes waiting the next day, so using that as an excuse won't be offered here. Instead, they need to take advantage of opportunities, such as getting off to a good league start. It’s not unreasonable to think that WVU could be 5-3 or 6-2 after its first eight league games – and it will likely have to be close to that level to build momentum and push for an NCAA tournament bid in March.