It’s only early December, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it inside the WVU basketball program. The 6-3 Mountaineers are preparing for a major opportunity by hosting No. 15 Gonzaga, a win that could get them back on the map.
A lot has happened since West Virginia visited “The Kennel” in Spokane, Wash., to open the 2012-13 season. Gonzaga thrashed the Mountaineers in front of a national audience by 34 points. To add even more incentive to the fixture, it was the Bulldogs that bounced WVU in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the last time West Virginia was in the Big Dance. Today, for the first time ever, the Zags will travel to Morgantown.
A victory over a nationally-ranked college basketball power is something head coach Bob Huggins has been looking to put on his team’s resume. West Virginia has had three chances at a statement victory already in this young season. The Mountaineers have fallen to Virginia Tech, No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 24 Missouri, all of them going down as a missed opportunity.
The date with Gonzaga feels different, however. Perhaps it’s the townwide mission to pack the Coliseum and bring a home court advantage back to Morgantown. Maybe it’s the not-so-quiet optimism for this young Mountaineer team. It doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that the “big game” mentality is back.
The stats say WVU has a leg-up on the competition in games at the Coliseum. West Virginia has shot the lights out at the Coliseum in five games in 2013-14. The Mountaineers are connecting on 52 percent of their shots from the field, almost 10 percent better than games on the road.
Today offers West Virginia a chance at bouncing back after several early disappointments. The next three games could serve as a substitute to the team’s three losses. In-state rival Marshall awaits the weekend affair in Charleston before Purdue comes to Morgantown on Dec. 22.
So, yes, it’s only early December, but the time to get a look at the Mountaineers’ true colors is here. As excitement builds, execution becomes more critical. Losing a game with so much hype that features a team that folks are hesitant to support is dangerous. This one is important.
Wins at the Coliseum can only help the program get back to where it once was. Beating a team like Gonzaga could wash away the bad memories that have circled WVU basketball in recent years and would be icing on the cake. West Virginia and No. 15 Gonzaga tip off at 9 p.m.