Hitting The Road

With much of what would have been a solid week off to work on its craft instead taken up by final exams, the No. 6 WVU men's basketball team will return to the hardwood when it travels to northern Ohio for its first true road game of the season on Saturday night.

Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins said most of the past week had been spent dealing with the final exam period, meaning that there was little time to polish his team's play in practice.

"The first couple days were really more making sure we stayed in condition," he said. "We got a lot of shots in. Yesterday we started concentrating on Cleveland State. It's hard. You've got guys leaving early, coming in late. It's hard to get a great practice in. But they were good."

"They're concentrating on what they should be concentrating on -- their academics."

"It's a difficult week for them, trying to cram for finals and come in here and concentrate. But I think they did a pretty good job. I think we're ready."

The squad's first true road game of the season comes against the Vikings, who are 4-7. The Horizon League squad comes in licking its proverbial wounds, having lost six of its last seven contests.

Still, Huggins said that both the opportunity to play in a hostile environment and to play against the style that CSU will bring to the floor will help his team improve.

"There's going to be a great crowd, from what I understand," Huggins said of the expected turnout at the 8,500-seat Wolstein Center where the contest will be played.

"They generally close the curtain, so it makes it a smaller, more -- what's the word, intimate? I don't think that's the right word. That seems more like when you're with your girlfriend. But they're selling a bunch of tickets and I know our alumni have bought a bunch of tickets, so it should be a good crowd."

"We need that. (During the 76 Classic in) Anaheim, there wasn't a big crowd. The crowd that was there was very pro-West Virginia."

As for the Vikings' style of play, Huggins said it mimics the approach of some of the other teams his squad will be playing against in the not-too-distant future.

"They're very guard-oriented," said the third-year WVU coach. "It's kind of funny. They're bigger than they've probably been since (coach) Gary (Waters) has been there. I think they've got three 6-9s. I know Aaron Pogue very well. He's a big, strong, physical guy."

"But their other guys are skilled. It's still pretty much a guard oriented team. They take the majority of the shots and pretty much control the game."

Indeed, guards Norris Cole and Trevon Harmon lead the way for the Vikings.

Cole, a junior, has been accurate all season, shooting a team-best 46.8 percent from the floor and averaging a team-high 16.2 points per contest.

Harmon has attempted 78 shots from 3-point range -- twice as many as anyone else on the roster -- but has converted on only 30.8 percent of those shots. Still, he is second on the team in scoring at 11.6 points per game.

Rebounding may be CSU's weakness, as only one player on the roster averages better than 4.2 rebounds per game. That player is the aforementioned Pogue, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward from Dayton, Ohio, who pulls down 6.4 boards per game.

Still, Cleveland State has been outrebounded by its opponents by an average of 3.8 per game.

Despite having played a tough early schedule that included losses to No. 4 Kentucky and Virginia, the Vikings likely haven't seen a team that crashes the glass like the Mountaineers. Huggins said he expects his team to get some much-needed work against a team that runs a guard-oriented offense against CSU.

"I think this is great preparation for us, because it's what we're going to see later on," he said.

"With all the ball screens they set and the way their guards play, that's what Ole Miss is going to do. Seton Hall is very perimeter-oriented. We're going to get a heavy dose of perimeter-oriented teams that set ball screens. We've got to do a good job of handling ball screens, and we haven't seen a lot of that since Texas A&M."

The West Virginia coach also said Waters will likely throw everything but the kitchen sink at the Mountaineer offense, giving it a chance to polish its attack against a variety of defensive looks.

"I fully expect a lot of 2-3 zone," Huggins said. "They're going to play a lot of man. They'll throw two or three presses at us and they'll probably play some box-and-one or triangle-and-two. It's a lot of things we haven't seen. We had to spend some time getting ready for that."

While the week off helped, WVU still will not likely be at full strength for Saturday night's contest. Huggins said guard Casey Mitchell will not play, as he continues to deal with a knee issue.

The junior college transfer had fluid drained out of that knee last week after it became an issue after the Mountaineers returned from winning the 76 Classic tournament in Anaheim, Calif.

"Casey hasn't progressed the way we hoped he would," Huggins said. "Probably, truth be known, he hasn't worked at it as hard as we've needed him to work at it. I don't think he's figured that out yet."

On the other hand (no pun intended), sophomore forward Devin Ebanks is expected to play. Ebanks has been dealing with soreness in his hand and thumb since injuring it dunking late in WVU's win over Texas A&M.

"Devin's thumb is still sore and still taped, but he's gone (and practiced) every day," Huggins said.

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