Thursday night's trip to Georgetown marks the beginning of a brutal five-game stretch for West Virginia. After playing the No. 14 Hoyas on Thursday in D.C., WVU returns home for a Sunday afternoon tilt with No. 4 Pitt. A mid-week home game follows against St. John's on January 28.
Although the upcoming stretch might seem daunting, WVU head coach Bob Huggins and his team are approaching with a glass half-full outlook.
"You've got to look at it as a great opportunity," he explained on Wednesday before the Mountaineers departed for Washington. "You need quality wins. Beating Georgetown on the road would be a quality win. Beating Pitt would be a quality win. We have chances (to get quality wins). We have more chances this year probably than what we had a year ago."
An extra day or two of preparation following Saturday's win over South Florida has given the Mountaineers a little bit of added time to work on defending the complex Princeton-style offense employed by Hoyas head coach John Thompson III. What can't be simulated, however, is Georgetown's talent level.
Aside from Connecticut, the Hoyas might have the deepest collection of talent in the 16-team Big East, which is certainly saying something considering the fact that eight conference teams are currently ranked in the top 25.
"They've got good players," said Huggins. "When you've got as many good players as they have – our league is just full of a whole bunch of good players. We struggle size-wise. We just don't have great size. They don't just have (standout freshman center Greg) Monroe, but two other guys who are 6-10. Now, they rarely play them together, but their skill level is very good. There isn't anybody on that team who wasn't highly recruited."
While their talent is extraordinary, the way in which the Hoyas go about playing together as a team might be even more impressive. Some of that is naturally the result of Thompson's system. Even so, assembling a collection of highly-touted high school recruits and getting them to sacrifice their individual stats for the betterment of the team is one of the things that has made Thompson so successful since taking over for former head coach Craig Esherick after the 2003-04 season.
That's not to say that a couple of Hoyas don't stand out from the crowd. Monroe, in particular, has been impressive in his rookie campaign. The New Orleans native is averaging 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and nearly three assists per game. While he's not as physically imposing as former Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, his diverse skill set could potentially cause just as many problems as Hibbert did.
"He's really good," Huggins said of Monroe. "He's 6-10, 250 pounds and he's stepped out and made threes. They run a lot of offense through him. He really passes the ball. I think that's the most impressive thing about him is how well he passes the ball."
Huggins noted before the season that he hoped to have a well-balanced offensive attack with as many as three or four players averaging in double-figures. For the most part, he's gotten that. Senior guard Alex Ruoff (16.5), junior forward Da'Sean Butler (16.4) and freshman point guard Truck Bryant (10.5) are all averaging in double figures.
"I think if you put together the guys that we play together, like Devin (Ebanks) and John Flowers who basically share time (at forward), you've got double figures there," Huggins added. "The more people you play, the less chance there is that (several players in double figures) happens."
West Virginia is just 2-7 against the Hoyas in the Verizon Center, which also houses the NBA's Washington Wizards. Although this will be Huggins's first trip to Georgetown as head coach at WVU, he has an idea of why the Mountaineers have struggled in road games at the Verizon Center.
"It's been difficult to play there because they have really good players," he said. "Generally, that's what you find. When the team you're playing has really good players, it makes it really hard to play in that place. There isn't any magic to the building; they just have a lot of really good players. They have for a long time."
Then again, it hasn't all been gloom and doom for the Mountaineers in D.C. West Virginia defeated Maryland in the Verizon Center during the 2003-04 regular season as part of the BB&T Classic. And of course wins over Arizona and Duke in the first two rounds of last season's NCAA tournament also came in the building.