MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — In over 40 years as a head coach, Bob Huggins doesn’t see many more firsts in college basketball.
That will change Saturday as his Mountaineers (6-1) host Radford (4-4), a squad led by first-year coach Darris Nichols. A native of Radford, Va., Nichols played four seasons for the Mountaineers from 2005 to 2008, spending his final two years under the watchful eye of Huggins.
Tip-off between WVU and Radford is set for 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
Here are some of the biggest storylines heading into this contest:
Country roads take Nichols home
Darris Nichols had a strong career in Morgantown. He averaged over 10 points per game both seasons under Huggins and played in 144 games for the Old Gold and Blue.
He played just one season overseas before getting right into coaching, starting on Huggins’s staff in 2010. Since then, Nichols has made the rounds — from Northern Kentucky and Wofford to Louisiana Tech and Florida.
In April, he got the call to return home as he accepted the head coaching job at Radford — the town in which he grew up.
“I’m happy for Darris,” Huggins said. “It’s a great opportunity for him, and particularly to be able to do it in his hometown. We all start somewhere and hopefully have success, and hopefully that success is continued other places.”
This won’t be Nichols’s first trip back to Morgantown since changing colors, however. He actually faced the Mountaineers three times while an assistant at Florida, even making the trip to the Coliseum last season. West Virginia lost all three of those matchups.
Can WVU get over its Taz dependency?
Senior guard Taz Sherman has broken out in the early part of West Virginia’s season, averaging 20.1 points per game and setting a career-high in scoring earlier this season. He has been the Mountaineers’ most consistent scorer by far as the only team member notching double-digit totals in all seven games thus far.
This has become a minor area of concern for Huggins they near conference play next month. Several other players have shown flashes — Sean McNeil also averages double digits, while Jalen Bridges has the proven ability to take over games — but WVU wants to see some of those guys step up more regularly.
“Offensively, we still rely on Taz too much,” Huggins said after WVU’s recent win over Bellarmine. “I’m all for him getting 25 or 30 a game, but we need some other guys to step up and score for us as well.”
WVU’s offensive struggles glare especially on the inside. The quartet of Isaiah Cottrell, Gabe Osabuohien, Dimon Carrigan and Pauly Paulicap get the most minutes o WVU’s big men, but all four combine to score just 15.7 points per game.
But, the forwards are making progress
Looking at the individual performances of the bigs, though, it’s difficult to ignore the progress they’ve made.
Paulicap, for example, was one of West Virginia’s most efficient players against Bellarmine — coming off the bench, he added six points on a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor while adding a pair of rebounds and a block. Carrigan has come into his own as well, showing why he led the nation in blocked shots a year ago at FIU — he already has 12 on the season.
“I think our bigs are getting a little better,” Huggins said. “I think their progress has probably been the thing that stands out the most.”
That duo saw some extra minutes out of necessity after Osabuohien, WVU’s defensive anchor and hype-man, was sent to the bench in foul trouble. Osabuohien has been fighting foul calls his entire career, and keeping his hands to himself has been a point of emphasis for Huggins heading into this season.
Huggins even publicly mused some solutions to Osabuohien’s foul plight ahead of the Radford game.
“We’ll just lock him in the locker room,” Huggins joked. “That’ll work.”
Radford at West Virginia game information
This contest tips off at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+. As always, Saturday starts on West Virginia Nexstar stations, this week with the WVU Coaches Combo Show.