The West Virginia University men’s basketball team has just one game under its belt prior to Friday’s Backyard Brawl at arch-rival Pitt, but don’t tell that to Bob Huggins.
Huggins said his team has had plenty of preparation ahead of Friday’s game (7 p.m. on ESPNU).
“We had a good scrimmage against Penn State, and our Duquesne scrimmage was really more than a scrimmage in that you had 9,500 people in there watching,” Huggins said. “So I think we’re OK.”
West Virginia won its season opener by 10 points against visiting Akron last week in Morgantown, and as is often the case Huggins said he saw some things he liked and some things he did not like. In the time since the win against the Zips, West Virginia’s players have seen an increase in the amount of tape study compared to what they usually do, but Huggins said for the most part this strategy is not a difficult sell on these players.
These mostly young Mountaineers are interested in getting better, and part of that starts with seeing what worked and what did not.
“They’ve been good [in practice],” Huggins said. “They’ve been really good. We’ve watched a lot more film than what we normally do of ourselves. I think your good things really stand out on film, as well as your transgressions. They got a chance to see the things they did well and the things they didn’t do very well. I think that really helps them.
“Our guys, this particular group, for the most part — and we have our guys who don’t really want to watch any, like everybody else — but I think by and large our guys really do want to watch film and really do want some feedback on their play.”
Pitt (2-1, 1-0 ACC) comes into Friday’s rivalry game as a team that has already experienced highs and lows. The Panthers opened the season with a conference win against Florida State, but followed that performance with a dud in a 75-70 loss at home to Nicholls State last Saturday. On Tuesday, Pitt bounced back with a 71-57 win against cross-town rival Robert Morris, but the rivalry scale gets turned up quite a bit when the Mountaineers come to town.
Friday’s meeting between WVU and the Panthers will be the 187th time the two programs have met on the hardwood in the series dating back to 1906. West Virginia has won the last three games in the series, including last season in Morgantown, but those same Mountaineers also failed to win a true road game last season. Huggins said he thinks the experience gained by players around the program last season will help ease any nervous feelings about going into a hostile environment at Pitt.
“We’ve got some guys in that sophomore bunch primarily, and then [seniors] Chase [Harler] and Logan [Routt], that have played in Allen Fieldhouse [at Kansas],” Huggins said. “They’ve played in the conference tournament and played before big crowds — bigger crowds than what they hold at Pitt. So I’m kind of counting on those guys.”
Against Akron, sophomore forward Derek Culver and senior swingman Jermaine Haley led the Mountaineers with 16 points each. Sophomore Emmitt Matthews scored 13 points and had seven rebounds to tie for the team lead with Culver and Haley. The Mountaineers also got a strong debut performance from true freshman guard Deuce McBride, who scored 11 points, grabbed six rebounds, had four steals, four assists and a block against the Zips.
Pitt’s strength so far this season has been the play of its guards. The Panthers have three guards who lead the way in junior Ryan Murphy (17 points per game), sophomore Trey McGowens (15 points per game) and sophomore Xavier Johnson (10 points per game).
The Mountaineers should be familiar with the two sophomores. Last season in Morgantown, Johnson scored 21 points and had six rebounds while McGowens finished with 18 points and four rebounds in the loss to WVU.
Huggins said he expects a fun college basketball atmosphere at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center on Friday, and added that he thinks the rivalry could get back to what it once was if the two programs continue to play every season. This year’s game between WVU and Pitt is the third of a four-game series running through next season. Huggins directed all questions about the school’s ability to extend that contract with the Panthers to athletic director Shane Lyons.
“We need to play well against a Power 5 school and get a win under our belt,” Huggins said. “I think if [the series] continues it is going to go back to being the rivalry that it was, and I think that’s fun for both schools and both fan bases.”