WVU basketball: Tough stretch should help Mountaineers
The West Virginia men's basketball team came out on top of Wednesday's 40-minute Capital Classic prize fight - or mixed martial arts match, if you count Marshall forward Robert Goff's kick to Juwan Staten that led to five players getting ejected.
Looking at their next week's worth of games, the Mountaineers can consider that round one.
WVU's 69-59 win over Marshall was the start of tough streak of games that continues Saturday at 4 p.m. against Virginia Tech (ESPN2). After that is a Dec. 11 trip to Duquesne, then a Dec. 15 game in Brooklyn, N.Y., against No. 3 Michigan. That's a 7-0 Hokies team, a Dukes team that lost to WVU by three points the last time the two played in 2010, and the powerhouse Wolverines.
WVU Coach Bob Huggins said the Mountaineers (3-3) could benefit from a brutal early schedule in a couple of ways. They can be an NCAA Tournament resume builder. Huggins remembered a year when Kansas State finished fourth in the Big 12, four teams went to the NCAA tourney and his wasn't one of them.
Plus, these early games should steel the Mountaineers for a Big 12 schedule that includes home-and-homes with Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
"That's the theory we're hangin' on to," Huggins said. "I do think sometimes when you don't play anybody ... what are you supposed to do, come out after beating VMI the way we beat VMI and yell and scream about how we didn't do certain things right? I think it does fall on deaf ears. That's the advantage of playing people."
Huggins also understands the possible drawbacks. Sure, playing well against the Herd, Hokies, Dukes and Wolverines could do wonders for the team's confidence. But what would result if West Virginia struggled?
"The theory is that it does make you better down the stretch," he said. "It does make you more prepared. You just hope it doesn't ... sometimes it can screw with guys' confidence a little bit and with their heads a little bit. You hope that doesn't happen. I don't think it has."
The compacted nature of these games is something different for the Mountaineers. WVU had to wait 10 days to play Marist after getting throttled by Gonzaga in its season opener. There were seven days between the Mountaineers' blowout of VMI and Wednesday's Capital Classic.
That's not always easy, especially after losses, said senior forward Deniz Kilicli.
"It's hell," said Kilicli, who scored a game-high 21 against Marshall. "It's sad, really. It's sad when you lose. After the Gonzaga game, it was really hard for everybody to pull everything back together."
"You wonder, 'Why did that happen?'" he continued. "People second-guess themselves and that's the worst thing that can happen to a basketball team."
There will be no long hiatus for WVU now, and no rest. The Hokies' average margin of victory is 14 points. That includes this past Saturday's 81-71 win over the 15th-ranked OSU Cowboys. Virginia Tech is the third-best scoring team in Division I, averaging 86.1 points and they're 24th nationally shooting 48.3 percent from the floor.
Hokies senior guard Erick Green is the nation's second-leading scorer, averaging 24.9 points per game. Teammate Jarell Eddie averages 17.1 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game.
The Mountaineers have brushed themselves off after losing three of their first four games to get back-to-back wins over VMI and the Herd. Right now, they feature a balanced scoring attack with Kilicli (11.3 ppg), Staten (11.0 ppg), Aaric Murray (9.7 ppg) and Gary Browne (9.2 ppg).
Kilicli said the thing West Virginia needs most right now is optimum effort from everyone on the roster.
"We have talented players," he said. "On paper, none of those teams is better than us when you just look at the guys. If we play hard, mistakes don't matter. We will win and that'll give us a chance to get better at the end of the season which is what matters."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.