After reinvigorating Mountaineer Nation with Press Virginia, 25 wins and a run to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, Bob Huggins and the West Virginia University men’s basketball team are back for another year, when they open the 2015-16 season tonight at 7 p.m. against the Northern Kentucky Norse.
Last season was Huggins’ most successful at West Virginia since his memorable Final Four run in 2010, as the Mountaineers shrugged off the bad mojo from two unsuccessful seasons and proved they could compete in the Big 12.
It might have been Huggins’ best coaching job of his storied career. But as the 62-year-old Morgantown native enters his ninth season with the Mountaineers and 34th season overall as a head coach, you won’t find him looking back too much at his old glories.
"It’s either (an achievement) or stupidity," Huggins said about the length of his tenure in basketball. "I’m not sure which one. I’ve been around the game my whole life, so it’s sort of second nature. I enjoy it. These guys are fun to be around and fun to coach. There are some challenges at times, but I’m still enjoying it."
With 33 years and 765 victories under his belt, one could forgive Huggins for sitting back just a little bit. Instead, he and the Mountaineers are locked in on the beginning of their nonconference schedule against a Northern Kentucky team they beat by 25 on the road last season.
Tonight’s game is No. 1,077 for Huggins as a head coach, but on the other side of the court, it’s Game No. 1 for brand-new Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen, a former assistant at VCU and Alabama getting his first-ever full-time collegiate head coaching job.
Brannen takes over after the Norse fired previous head coach Dave Bezold following a 13-17 campaign in 2014-15. With a new coach comes a new style, limiting the amount of information the Mountaineers can take away from their 25-point win last season.
Many of the same players that suited up for Northern Kentucky last year will be on the court again this year, however, so the Mountaineers will just do what they always do: bring the energy.
"We just have to put pressure on them," said junior guard Tarik Phillip. "Coach is always telling us to make one person guard two people. It’s tough for somebody to do that, so we just have to put the defense in situations that they’re not used to being in."
After scoring 20 points and handing out seven assists, sophomore guard Daxter Miles appears ready to take on a bigger role as an offensive threat after the departure of guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne. Tonight, he’ll get the chance to show his stuff.
"Every game is an opportunity for somebody," Miles said. "One night I may score a lot of points, the next game I may not. It can be anybody’s night. I’m just taking it one game at a time and playing the hardest and the best that I can."
The West Virginia-Northern Kentucky season opener will tip off at 7 p.m. tonight at the WVU Coliseum.