The Mountaineers tip the 2014-15 season off tonight against Monmouth at the Coliseum, and the players agree it will be nice to get to play an actual regular season game and go up against a real opponent after spending so much time practicing and preparing for the season.
"I'm definitely ready. I've been playing hard with the team and just learning something new every day from Coach Huggins. I can't wait to play," said junior forward Jonathan Holton. "We've been playing against each other for a long time now. It's definitely going to be good to get to go against other people to see how our offense and defense can get going."
That offense and defense that West Virginia will be rolling out this season could look a little different than what it's looked like the last few years when WVU was not able to consistently make stops on the defensive end of the floor. Head coach Bob Huggins sees a lot more depth on his bench than he did a year ago, claiming throughout the preseason and after the Mountaineers' exhibition victory against Shepherd that his team could potentially play as many as 13 players in a game. And with that depth, West Virginia is planning to bring a lot of pressure defensively by using a variety of different full-court presses that will help it force turnovers and try to get easy buckets on the other end.
"We are going to press. Our strength is in our numbers and we're going to try to get into other peoples' benches and wear on other people," Huggins said.
WVU finished 17-16 a year ago and earned a berth in the NIT before being bounced in the first round by Georgetown. After the departures of Eron Harris, Terry Henderson and Remi Dibo left some voids to fill, the Mountaineers added a series of newcomers and - including Holton and Elijah Macon, who will be making their West Virginia debuts after sitting out last season with eligibility issues - will be potentially sending a total of seven players to the court for their first games in WVU uniforms tonight.
Huggins says that while the defense and rebounding is something this team is doing well with and will rely on to have a lot of success, improvements still need to be made in the halfcourt offense the Mountaineers will try to set up as it gets the season going. West Virginia returns Big 12 preseason Player of the Year and all-American candidate Juwan Staten at the point to help lead the way to making those improvements.
"Our halfcourt offense hasn't been very good. That's an area we're going to get better at," Huggins said. "The hard thing has been that we did work really hard on it, but when we were pressing a little bit everything got in a frenzy. It's been hard to get them used to going at that pace defensively and then slowing down and running good offense, and we haven't mastered that yet."
Monmouth comes into the season after last year's 11-21 finish and was recently picked to finish sixth this season in the MAAC.
The Hawks are led by junior Deon Jones and senior Andrew Nicholas. Jones was a preseason third team all-MAAC selection and 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, while Nicholas added 14.3 points per game a year ago and made at least three 3-pointers in a game 11 times.
"I think they've been kind of building for this year," Huggins said. "They can shoot, they can play with their back to the basket and play a lot of motion."