A Much Bigger Challenge

Tonight's game between West Virginia and Oklahoma will present opportunities and challenges for the Mountaineers both as a team and individually.

As a team, the Mountaineers will be facing their toughest opponent since a tilt with Tennessee in late November at the Legends Classic in Newark. The Volunteers, a mainstay in the nation's top 20 throughout the season's first month and a half, have been the only team to come away with a victory against West Virginia in the Bob Huggins era.

Of course playing the likes of Radford, Arkansas-Monticello, and Prairie View, one would certainly expect the Mountaineers to win as many times as they take the court against the inferior foes.

Tonight, that all changes.

Battle-tested Oklahoma (7-3) comes to the Mountain State for a Capital City bout with No. 23 West Virginia (10-1). A soldout Charleston Civic Center crowd and national television audience (ESPN2) will watch the second of a two-game hardcourt series between WVU and OU just days before the schools meet on the gridiron for the right to be called Fiesta Bowl champion.

Bob Stoops's Sooner football team is known for, among other things, having a size advantage over most if not all opponents on the docket. Ironically, Jeff Capel's cagers present a similar challenge.

By all accounts, the Sooners will trot out the biggest starting lineup this side of the Monstars from "Space Jam." Of the five starters, 6-5 senior guard David Godbold is the runt. Freshman forward Blake Griffin stands a solid 6-10 with a well-sculpted 243 pounds filling out his frame. Oh, by the way, Griffin is a projected first-round NBA pick should he choose to be one and done in Norman. As good as Grifin is -- he leads the team in scoring, rebounding and a host of other statistical categories -- the Sooners are anything but a one-man show.

Senior center Longar Longar may be a bit long in the tooth in comparison to Griffin, but if neglected by defenders could make it a long night for the Mountaineers, even leaving their loyal fans longing for a game against an undermanned and out-matched patsy such as Longwood. (Was that sentence long enough?) Longar has topped at least 16 points in each of his last four outings, which include wins over Arkansas and Gonzaga.

Griffin, Longar, and reserves Taylor Griffin (Blake's older brother) and Keith Clark provide the Mountaineers with the deepest frontcourt challenge seen to date under Huggins. Add in the aforementioned big guards, and a sizeable challenge presents itself as the calendar year draws to a close.

"They're a hard match, not just for us but a lot of people, because they have such great size," Huggins said on Friday night prior to West Virginia's evening workout. "They've got four big guys. They don't just have a couple, they have four. When we get into league play we're going to see a whole lot of big people. This will be a good preparation for us."

Perhaps no player will take more from this game than forward Joe Alexander. The uber-athletic junior has done a little bit of everything for the Mountaineers through 11 games, from scoring with his soft, old-school mid-range jump shot to grabbing rebounds on both ends of the court to blocking shots. What he has not been asked to do all that often is guard a go-to guy in the post.

Until tonight. While it remains to be seen whether Alexander will match-up first against Griffin or Longar, the fact remains that his post defense in this game will be just as important to his team's success as his offensive output.

"It is different," Alexander said. "This is a little bit more of a post-oriented team as opposed to a perimeter-oriented team. In the past, the (West Virginia's) guards have been able to focus on shutting the other team down by guarding their men. (Against Oklahoma), me and the other post players get to say that we can contribute a lot to a win by shutting down our men."

It goes without saying that the Sooners present the biggest physical challenge Alexander has faced since spending countless hours in the weight room over the summer putting on pounds and preparing his body for low-post battles such as this and forthcoming Big East games. However, the key to overcoming this challenge isn't so much with brawn as it is brains.

"I'm not trying to adjust to anything different really," he said. "I'm just hoping that I have prepared enough to be able to deal with it. I think I will. I don't think it will be a problem. It's really just a matter of focus. That's all, just focus."

With it's RPI hovering around 40, a win over Oklahoma would be a nice shot in the arm as West Virginia enters Big East play next week. Anytime you have a chance to take on a team from another reputable conference, only good can come from it. And with a national television audience to boot, the Mountaineers just might start to raise an eyebrow or two around the college basketball world with a win over the Sooners.

"We've been ready since the beginning of the year to play good teams," Alexander said.

Oklahoma certainly fits that bill, and without a doubt, a win over OU would be very helpful to West Virginia's NCAA resume.

Some might even go so far as to call it a "big" win.

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