Preview: WVU - Monmouth

West Virginia opens a new season with a first-ever opponent, but most eyes will be on how all the new parts of the Mountaineer basketball program perform as a result of head coach Bob Huggins' renovation effort.

SCOUTING THE HAWKS

Monmouth returns a veteran team for its second season in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Its top six scorers are all back, giving the Hawks hope of improving on last year's 11-21 mark. Junior guard Deon Jones (6-6, 210 lbs.) heads a strong cast on the guard-heavy team -- one that could test West Virginia's perimeter defense. With four sophomores among the nine returning letterwinners, the Hawks are poised to make a big jump in the MAAC standings based on the experience their young roster gained during last season. They are looking to break a string of eight consecutive losing seasons, which followed a streak of six years in which they recorded winning seasons while winning three Northeast Conference titles.

With 12 guards on its listed 16-man roster, Monmouth is clearly perimeter-oriented. Andrew Nicholas (6-6, 225 lbs.) and Josh James (6-2, 190 lbs.) form the additional two sides of a backcourt triangle that tallied more than 31 points per game a season ago. Fellow backcourters Justin Robinson (5-8, 160 lbs.) and Collin Stewart (6-7, 195 lbs.) provide playmaking and support off the bench.

Inside, the Hawks hope to get help from Providence transfer Brice Kofane (6-8, 205 lbs.), who had limited numbers during his final season with the Friars before moving on to Monmouth for his last year of eligibility. Zach Tillman (6-10, 280 lbs.) and Chris Brady (6-10, 240 lbs.) should help the Hawks avoid being overwhelmed on the blocks and in the paint, but their mobility and defensive abilities will be tested by West Virginia's bigs.

Even with the experience gained a year ago, Monmouth is still quite callow. Ten of the 16 Hawks on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores.


OUTLOOK

For West Virginia, this game is step one in determining how all of its new pieces fit. The answers won't be forthcoming for a while, but this first "real game" will give the Mountaineer coaching staff some live data to work with after a pair of scrimmages and a month's worth of practices.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Fri Nov 14
7:00 PM E
WVU Coliseum
Morgantown, WV
Records
WVU 0-0, 0-0
MU 0-0, 0-0
Series
First Meeting
TV
WVUSports.com
Sirius/XM
None
RPI
WVU - NA
MU: NA
WVU head coach Bob Huggins noted after his team's exhibition game against Shepherd that the rotation might go 13 players deep, and given the different talents and varying pieces with which he has to work, that number might not be far off the mark. The players getting minutes, and the amount of run each gets, will depend on a number of factors in the opening games, including matchups, performance on the court, mental mistakes and the like, but this contest will certainly be a first step to seeing how the players mesh with each other. By the time the meat of the Big 12 season rolls around, what West Virginia fans see on the floor may vary greatly from what is witnessed in this game, but there are still a number of items to keep track of as this one plays out.

First, how does West Virginia defense a lineup that will be smaller than it is -- one that can spread the floor with three- and four-guard sets? That could be a problem for West Virginia's forwards, who will have to chase smaller foes on defense when the Hawks have the ball. That could, in turn, lead to some three-guard sets on the part of the Mountaineers, in order to more effectively defend. WVU could also choose to go big in order to gain its own advantage on the offensive end. It could easily deploy Devin Williams, Nathan Adrian, Brandon Watkins and Elijah Macon three at a time if it wishes, or keep at least two of them on the court in order to create matchup problems of its own.

Second, will WVU be able to ride its pressure defense to more offense? Observers shouldn't expect the Mountaineers to press non-stop, but with more defensive options (and more players willing to play defense) this year, a press (either the diamond or a man-to-man with some run and jump trap) could be an effective part of the Mountaineer milieu. In order for it to become a weapon, though, it must be honed early, and yield some success against teams such as the Hawks.


FAST BREAKS

Juwan Staten finished last year with 193 assists -- four short of the single season record of 197 held by Ron Williams, who dished out that number in 1967. With a comparable effort this year, Staten would move into the top five in career assists at WVU. He currently has 294, and is 210 away from Williams' third-lace all-time mark of 210. Stever Berger's career record of 574 is out of reach.

* * *

The Mountaineers own a 90-15 all-time record in season openers, including a 96-9 record in home openers. The last time West Virginia lost its opening game of the season was just two years ago, when Gonzaga rolled to an 84-50 win on its home court. Prior to that, WVU's last defeat in its first game came at Minnesota in 1997. It's last season-opening home lass came all the way back in 1989 against Robert Morris.

* * *

The Hawks have a manageable out of conference schedule, featuring road games at Maryland, SMU and WVU as standout contests. Rutgers makes a trip to the Hawks' home court at the end of December, but MU also has six non-conference clashes that aren't immediate mismatches. That should give head coach King Rice's team the chance to get a few wins and build confidence before conference play.

* * *

One familiar face on the Hawk roster, but one with which WVU won't have to contend, is Je'lon Hornbeak. The 6-3 guard transferred to Monmouth after two seasons at Oklahoma, where he started almost half of the 61 games in which he appeared. Hornbeak's career high for the Sooners? Fourteen points against the Mountaineers on Nov. 25, 2012, when the Sooners downed West Virginia in a holiday tournament at Disney World.


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