Let's take a look at the schedule, starting with the non-conference.
NON-CONFERENCE OPPONENTS: Mount St. Mary's, Slippery Rock, Canisius, Montana (Old Spice Classic), Virginia Tech/Western Michigan (Old Spice Classic), North Carolina State (in Charleston), at Duquesne, Savannah State, The Citadel, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Marshall (in Charleston), UCLA.
The good news is that the Mountaineers only have one true road game in the non-conference (at Duquesne, December 9.) West Virginia will play on a neutral court twice in Charleston, and at least twice at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. The bad news is that this group will not face hardly any challenges heading into the Big East schedule. Savannah State, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and The Citadel combined for just 19 wins last season.
I understand the need to get some early wins, especially with a young team. However, there is very little middle ground in the overall schedule. Most of the non-conference opponents (like those listed in the above paragraph) are very bad. Other than UCLA, and possibly North Carolina State, West Virginia will not have a single quality out of conference opponent. Montana is the only other non-conference opponent which made it to the NCAA Tournament last season.
With a young team, confidence is very important. One of the ways to gain confidence is wins, of course, and the non-conference schedule should provide plenty of those. Another way to gain confidence is winning, or at least having a chance to win, close games against good opponents, particularly on the road. The non-conference schedule does not allow any opportunities for the latter.
BIG EAST CONFERENCE OPPONENTS: Connecticut, Villanova, St. John's, at Notre Dame, at Marquette, South Florida, at Cincinnati, Depual, at Rutgers, at Seton Hall, Pitt, at Georgetown, Seton Hall, at Providence, at Pitt, Cincinnati.
First of all, I understand that West Virginia has very little say in the conference schedule. The Big East, and television, dictate most of the conference match-ups. The Conference certainly didn't do the Mountaineers any favors by scheduling the first two conference games against UConn and Villanova, to say nothing of the fact that students will be home on winter break during that time.
Also, it really sucks (for lack of a better term) that the Mountaineers will not be playing Louisville at all in the 2006-2007 season. Nothing against Seton Hall, but West Virginia's natural (i.e. geographical) conference rivals are Pitt, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Georgetown. In my opinion, and I'm sure Mountaineer fans would agree, it is insane to think that the Cardinals and Mountaineers won't be playing in basketball. What's next year's schedule going to look like, Big East? Will Pitt and West Virginia fail to meet?
Now that I'm off my soap box, I can say that the rest of the conference schedule is pretty fair to the baby Mountaineers. By the time the bulk of the conference schedule rolls around, hopefully the young team will be getting a better feel for each other on the court.
In conclusion, this schedule is A LOT different from the national slate that Beilein's Bombers played last season. The Mountaineers were, in a way, America's team, traveling from coast to coast competing with the best in the nation. As I said before though, this will be a much different team.
An easy non-conference schedule, coupled with what could be an improving team could result in postseason play for West Virginia. For now, though, the goal is likely to make the Big East Tournament. As we've seen before, once you get there, anything can happen.