Starting Point

After roughly a month of practice that included a closed scrimmage as well as last weekend's exhibition game against Mountain State, the Mountaineer men's basketball team will finally tip things off for good on Friday night inside the WVU Coliseum.

Head coach Bob Huggins will make his official Mountaineer debut against the Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils, a Division II school that fell 101-44 on Wednesday night against fellow Legends' Classic participant Tennessee in Knoxville. While the Boll Weevils may not present the same types of challenges that many of West Virginia's opponents will this season, Huggins is hoping that his team can take plenty from Friday night's game.

"It's part of the Legends tournament, and we don't get to pick our opponents," said Huggins, who would almost certainly open up the season against a more challenging foe. "We need to play somebody. We need to get out and play somebody. We've been playing against each other enough, and we need to see some different things offensively."

Huggins and Boll Weevils head coach Mike Newell do have a friendship that goes back to previous coaching jobs. When Huggins led Akron to the NCAA Tournament, Newell's Arkansas-Little Rock squad was playing in the same regional as the Zips. Newell has also spent time at Lamar, and Oklahoma, including a stint as the Sooners' interim head coach in which he led them to an NCAA Tournament win over UAB.

Regardless of the opponent, Huggins is hoping to see an improved rebounding prowess on Friday night. Last Saturday against the Cougars, West Virginia was out-rebounded by a final tally of 46-38, and gave up 22 offensive boards to Bob Bolen's team. Though he doesn't expect an overnight miracle, Huggs will be looking for a technical improvement in his players.

"We're trying to get a couple of guys to get some rebounds. I think if they got one, they would like it and want to keep getting more," he said, reiterating a similar quote from his post-game remarks on Saturday. "We've worked a lot on technique and with drill situations where people are moving, and they have to go find them. They have to understand the importance of putting bodies on people. We've got to do a better job of rebounding the ball. They shot a lot more free throws than we did, and they still out-rebounded us. That's not a good deal. When you get out-rebounded by eight, that's not good.

While the Mountaineers do not have a whole lot of size on the roster, rebounding is not all about the tallest and strongest. Certainly that is part of it, but so is exerting the effort to find someone in an opposing jersey and put a body on them, thereby hindering their chances of coming up with the loose ball. Finding the man instead of the ball is certainly easier said than done, according to Huggins.

"If I put you out there, the natural thing is to run to the ball, and that's not the right way to get a rebound necessarily," he said. "We've got to drill it into them to do the right thing all the time, and you have to want to go get it.

As nice as a win over the Boll Weevils would be to get things started off on the right foot, Huggins does not expect his team to be performing at its absolute best this early. Instead, he says, it is more likely that they will improve over the course of the coming days, weeks, and months as the schedule progresses and the Mountaineers get more comfortable in their new schemes on both ends of the court.

"We're going to get better the more games we play, certainly," he said. "I think the more things we see and have to adjust to, the better we're going to be. It's like anything else. If you've read a book before, and you go back and read it again, you know what's coming. It's the same thing out here. After we've guarded things or gone against a certain defense and seen it before, you know where they're coming from and what they're trying to do to you. Then, you can make adjustments."

One area the Mountaineers are unlikely to adjust is three-point shooting. Against MSU, the men formerly known as Beilein's Bombers finished 12-29 from downtown, and displayed the same shooting prowess that enabled them to run all the way to the NIT championship back in March. As well as the Mountaineers shoot it, Huggins would be foolish to not let them bomb away from downtown. Luckily for everyone involved, Huggins is no fool.

"We're going to shoot some 3's," he said. "We're going to do it a little bit differently, but we're going to shoot some. We're going to put so much pressure on the rim that people are going to be open. I don't know, we may not shoot 29 every game, but we're going to shoot 3's."

The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM, with the nationally ranked Mountaineer women's team preceding the men's game with a 5:30 tilt against St. Francis (Pa.)


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