MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia figures to be in for a much stiffer test in its regular-season opener tonight than it faced in its exhibition tune-up on Monday.It should be a much different one, too.The Mountaineers, taking what are hoped to be the first steps toward erasing the memories of a 13-19 season, host Mount St. Marys tonight at the Coliseum. The 8 p.m. game will be televised throughout the state by West Virginia Media (WOWK in Charleston) and will be preceded at 5:30 p.m. by WVU's women hosting Ohio State.On Monday, Bob Huggins' team broke what had seemed to be a preseason shooting slump by making 12 3-pointers in an exhibition win over Division II Fairmont State. But the Falcons weren't particularly aggressive in defending the Mountaineers, at least not as they got deeper into a game in which they were whistled for 40 fouls.
Mount St. Marys is far more likely to attack West Virginia defensively."They're experienced and they're going to press," Huggins said of Mount St. Marys, which also goes by Mountaineers. "Diamond press, man-to-man, run and jump and maybe a little 2-2-1.''West Virginia would appear to be relatively well equipped to handle pressure given that its most experienced players are all guards. Juwan Staten, Eron Harris and Gary Browne can all play the point and handle the ball.Terry Henderson could help there, too, but his availability for tonight's opener remains in question. Henderson missed Monday's exhibition game because of a problem with one of his shins. Aside from Henderson, though, everyone else seems healthy and ready, including junior college transfer Remi Dibo, who played only the last few minutes Monday after missing two weeks after knee surgery.
That doesn't mean, of course, that West Virginia is well armed. The Mountaineers still have only nine eligible scholarship players. Tonight's starters are preliminarily listed as the same ones who started Monday - Staten, Harris and forwards Kevin Noreen, Devin Williams and Nathan Adrian. Browne, Dibo, Henderson and Brandon Watkins are the only other eligible scholarship players.To fill the shortage, Huggins on Monday played freshman walk-on Chase Connor, who led the state in scoring last season at Shady Spring. Huggins said this week that Connor would likely continue to play, particularly if Henderson remains sidelined."I think Chase is going to play all year,'' Huggins said. "I don't think playing him in the first half [against Fairmont] was anything out of the ordinary. He's a guy they're going to have to guard. Chase is going to play.''Mount St. Marys is coming off of an 18-14 season a year ago under then-first-year coach Jamion Christian. Four of last year's five starters return to a team that starts four guards around 6-foor-10 center Kristijan Krajina. Three of those guards - Rashad Whack, Sam Prescott and Julian Norfleet - are seniors who averaged in double figures scoring last year.Of West Virginia's first five games of the season, tonight's is the first of four home games in that stretch. Tuesday the Mountaineers play their lone early road game at Virginia Tech, an afternoon game that is part of ESPN's 24-hour tip-off marathon. After that are home games against Duquesne, Georgia Southern and Presbyterian before a tournament in Cancun, Mexico Thanksgiving week.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.