MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Bob Huggins and his West Virginia men’s basketball squad move even closer to its 2022-23 campaign when it tips off against Bowling Green on Friday in an exhibition match.
Mountaineer fans got their first looks at the team in the Gold-Blue Debut earlier this month, but over the last several months the team has worked to iron out its kinks before the games count. Here is how the Hall of Fame head coach is feeling ahead of the exhibition:
A Mountaineer melting pot
The Mountaineers got a good test when they traveled to play the Dayton Flyers, a veteran team from the Atlantic-10 coming off a 24-win season under Anthony Grant. Huggins said that competition was a positive experience for his squad.
“We’re getting better. I think…the Dayton scrimmage was good for us. They’re picking things up. You have to, you’ve got to throw a lot at them in a short period of time,” Huggins said.
Facing another team was important for this team, which is full of players from diverse basketball backgrounds. Nine of them are new additions (including the returning forward Emmitt Matthews Jr.). Four of those guys come from the Power Five level, three from junior college and two from high school.
That presents a challenge for Huggins, who hopes to mold them into his vision of a WVU basketball team. He admits that not all of them are his perfect prototype of a player, but they’re learning.
“They’ve been extremely receptive. We’ve gone pretty hard for a good period of time,” Huggins said. “I like them. They’re trying. They’re not there yet, but they’re trying.”
Weathering the preseason injury bug
WVU has already been struck with a cluster of minor injuries, but Huggins is unfazed by these setbacks.
Fans got wind of two notable injuries at the Gold-Blue Debut when Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Tre Mitchell took the scrimmage in from the bench. Matthews, according to Huggins, is dealing with a shoulder injury that he suffered early in practice, but he will be ready for the season.
“Emmitt stays dinged up,” Huggins said. “He dinged his shoulder up a little bit, he’ll play through it.”
Mitchell’s status, however, isn’t quite as clear. Huggins said that the Texas transfer is “getting better daily,” but he hasn’t practiced yet and his availability for the opener is up to the team’s medical staff.
The list of injuries goes on after those two: sophomore Seth Wilson sustained a wrist injury, transfer Erik Stevenson “got hurt,” and sophomore Pat Suemnick “had a floater…and he had some other issues in there that he had to clean up” taking him off the court for two or three weeks.
“We’ve got a couple guys that haven’t played at all yet,” Huggins said. “They’re still in the training room working through some things.”
The Bear’s Friday focus
Huggins said his team will see a different look against Bowling Green than it did against Dayton. While both teams like to shoot from behind the arc, Bowling Green likes to run the floor against teams.
That means WVU will get a chance to work on its transition defense, a focus for Huggins.
The coach also wants to work on offense and rebounding, which he said lacked against Dayton.
“I didn’t think we were very good in a lot of areas,” Huggins said. “We really scored more probably off of our defense than we did off of our offense, and we didn’t rebound it as well as what I think we have to rebound it to be good, and we have people that are capable of rebounding the ball, very capable of rebounding the ball.”