Sooners Provide Test For Later

Saturday night's game in Charleston against the Oklahoma Sooners represents not only the final game of 2007 for the Mountaineers, but also a shift upward in competition.

Radford, Prairie View, and Maryland Eastern Shore, we hardly knew ye. Thanks for stopping by Arkansas-Monticello, UMBC, and Canisius.

From here on out, it's big time college basketball or bust for Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers. No more patsies, no more cupcake city, and for all intents and purposes no more "guaranteed wins" for West Virginia as 2007 nears a close and the Big East awaits in '08.

Through the season's first 11 games, the Mountaineers sit at a nearly-perfect 10-1, and find themselves ranked No. 23 in both major polls. Even in it's lone loss to Tennessee, West Virginia still had a chance to win late in regulation before UT All-American Chris Lofton sealed the lone Mountaineer loss of the season with one of his patented late-game jumpers with defenders all up in his grill.

Mountaineer fans at the Coliseum have seen, in the likes of Prairie View and Maryland-Eastern Shore, two of the worst teams to ever enter the big cupcake. Yet over the next several weeks, they will also witness Big East contenders Marquette, Syracuse, and Georgetown invade the University City. Talk about all or nothing. To be fair, head coach Bob Huggins can take no credit or blame for 99 percent of this season's schedule, as only the Winthrop game was scheduled following his April arrival.

Though each of the ten wins has come by an impressive margin, an average of nearly 29 points per game, WVU has seldom been tested by a team that's deep and talented, such as Oklahoma.

The Sooners come to Charleston on the heels of impressive back-to-back wins over Arkansas and Gonzaga, with the latter being ranked in the top 20 until running into Jeff Capel's buzzsaw in Oklahoma City.

Freshman Blake Griffin, a McDonald's All-American and NBA power forward in-waiting, will provide a strong test in the post with his 13 points and eight rebounds per game matching up against West Virginia's normally-light lineup which boasts 6'8" forward Joe Alexander and 6'7" sophomore Da'Sean Butler in the post.

The aptly-named Longar Longar, all 6'11" of him, teams with Griffin to provide a solid 1-2 punch on the block for Capel, the former Duke floor general. Griffin and Longar certainly aren't the first set of twin bigs that the Mountaineers have faced this season, with Duquesne, New Mexico State and Tennessee all having comparable size in their respective lineups.

Then again, none of those teams was nearly as battle-tested as these Sooners. Capel's club has traveled literally from coast to coast, matching up against not only Arkansas and Gonzaga, but No. 2 Memphis, seen in the eyes of many as perhaps the nation's best overall team. OU has also played -- and lost to -- O.J. Mayo and the USC Trojans.

Balance has not been an issue for the Sooners, as five different players have led the team in scoring on any given night. Consistency with that scoring, however, has been the biggest challenge. In it's nine wins, OU has averaged just shy of 80 points. The three losses? 56.6. Keep in mind the Mountaineers are giving up a paltry 57 points per game, second-best among Big East clubs.

A win over the Sooners would be twofold for West Virginia. First, it would give another sorely-needed out-of-conference "name" win over an opponent from a decent league. Second, it would give the Mountaineers a solid win with which to vault into Big East play. Chances of going undefeated against Notre Dame, Marquette, Louisville and Syracuse in the first four conference games are probably not realistic.

Or are they? That's what we don't know. We know the Mountaineers are good, likely even better than most onlookers envisioned in year one of Huggins' homecoming. But how much better? How good? Those questions will not begin to be answered until Saturday.

For better, or for worse.

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