Tough non-conference schedule could help WVU
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 30, 2012 00:11
While many of the top teams in the country have been playing lesser competition and picking up easy wins throughout the first couple of weeks, the West Virginia men’s basketball team has taken a different approach to the early part of the schedule.
And although the Mountaineers are 2-3 through the first five games of the season, the teams against which they have struggled are all teams that have provided them with a good test to see where they are as a team.
"We’ve played, to this point, a heck of a schedule," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. "We’re not playing what all those other people are playing ... You’ve got to learn from your mistakes."
Two of West Virginia’s three losses came from teams currently ranked in the top 100 in the RPI and Davidson, which is the only team outside the top 100, has cemented itself as one of the nation’s top mid-major programs over the last decade.
And even though they’re currently struggling to get some wins, the Mountaineers know they have to stay positive and can’t let frustration start to rear its head.
"You don’t get frustrated in the beginning. You just play," said senior forward Deniz Kilicli. "All those teams (WVU has lost to) are tournament teams.
"If you watch the Gonzaga games and then the Oklahoma game, you see two different teams. Getting better is all that matters. Finishing strong is more important than starting good."
Of the teams WVU has lost to in the early part of the season, Gonzaga is undefeated at 6-0 and is winning games by an average margin of victory of 23.8 points per game, Oklahoma is off to a 4-1 start, and Davidson returned its top eight scorers from last year’s NCAA tournament team that won the Southern Conference and finished 25-8.
The Mountaineers, as they have for the past six seasons under Huggins, are faced with one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country. But getting to face talented teams in the early portion of the season will only get WVU more ready for the gauntlet that is Big 12 Conference play.
"When you go into a game, you already know that you’ve played a team of that caliber. So if we go play Texas, we’ve already played five teams like Texas," Kilicli said. "In the middle of the season when we have those games, people are going to be more prepared, the whole team is going to be more prepared because they’re already mentally there."
Its loss to Oklahoma in the Old Spice Classic brought West Virginia’s record to 1-3, the team’s worst start since 1980.
Things won’t get much easier for the Mountaineers heading into the rest of the non-conference slate, with matchups against in-state rival Marshall, Virginia Tech, No. 3 Michigan and Purdue coming up on the schedule.
But Huggins and the team hopes these early tests will have the Mountaineers ready for the challenges that will come in conference play and the postseason.
"We’re going to go out there like this is what you do every day," Kilicli said. "Every game is going to be at this level. This schedule really helps us with that a lot."