MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bob Huggins would like to think that Wednesday's streak-snapping win over TCU did West Virginia some good from a confidence standpoint.Whether it actually did or not, well, that's a good question."That's our hope,'' Huggins said Friday before the Mountaineers practiced.The test, of course, comes today when West Virginia goes at it again. Fresh off that 71-50 drubbing of TCU at home, the Mountaineers (9-9, 2-3 Big 12) face a much more difficult assignment today. They face Oklahoma State (12-5, 2-3) in a 1 p.m. game at Gallagher-Iba Arena that will be televised by ESPNU.
The confidence Huggins hopes his team has now wouldn't have been generated by a win over TCU. After all, the Horned Frogs are 9-10 and have lost all six of their Big 12 games. Beating TCU was expected.No, it's the way the Mountaineers played on Wednesday night that was encouraging. Well, at least for a while."I think for 25 minutes at least we played the way we've played in the past,'' Huggins said, referring mostly to his team's defense.Repeating that today against Oklahoma State, though, will be difficult.
"They're very athletic,'' Huggins said. "Extremely athletic.''Indeed, there are exceptional players and top-notch athletes up and down the Cowboys' rotation.Freshman point guard Marcus Smart was named the preseason freshman of the year in the Big 12 and 6-foot-7, 230-pound sophomore forward Le'Bryan Nash was one of the five players named to the preseason all-league team. Neither has disappointed.Smart is averaging 13.2 points, 4.5 assists and at 6-3 and 225 pounds is the team's second-leading rebounder. Nash averages 13.9 points.
Yet neither leads the team in scoring. That honor goes to 6-3 junior guard Markel Brown, averaging 14.4 points. If that isn't enough, the Cowboys have size and muscle in 6-11 Philip Jurick and 6-8 Michael Cobbins. And the team's best 3-point shooter, freshman Phil Forte, averages 10.8 points off the bench."Smart is probably the most well-rounded point guard in our league,'' Huggins said. "He and Nash were both McDonald's All-Americans. Cobbins is big and athletic, Brown is probably the best athlete in the whole league and Jurick is a 7-footer who takes up space.''Because of that size with Jurick and Cobbins, Huggins said he would probably tend to go with a bigger lineup today. For a couple of games he experimented with one big man and four guards and wings, and he will still use that lineup at times. But chances are he starts the same lineup today that he did Wednesday, with big men Kevin Noreen and Deniz Kilicli both on the floor.
"I don't think we can go that small with Cobbins and how athletic he is,'' Huggins said.It would help, of course, if West Virginia shot the ball well today, which has been a season-long issue. The Mountaineers rank among the worst shooting teams in the country, but have, at times, been able to make shots.When that might happen again is the great variable."Look at Purdue. They struggled shooting the ball and then made 8 of 11 3-pointers against us,'' Huggins said. "A lot of it is confidence.''The only time West Virginia and Oklahoma State have played basketball was December of 1958. The Mountaineers won a 67-49 decision over the Cowboys in the first round of the Kentucky Invitational. That's the season West Virginia reached the NCAA title game before losing to California.After today's game, WVU returns home for an ESPN Big Monday game against No. 3 Kansas.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.