Backcourt Play, Ball Protection In Focus For WVU Basketball Opener

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins smiles as his team begins practice

Backcourt Play, Ball Protection In Focus For WVU Basketball Opener

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After an up and down preseason, which included tale-of-two-halves games against Purdue in the secret scrimmage and Penn State last Friday, head coach Bob Huggins might prefer to ease his way into the season. His revamped team, which includes almost as many newcomers than holdovers, will get no such break, however, as it faces Buffalo on Friday at the WVU Coliseum.

“I’d like to play someone we can beat,” Huggins said, mostly tongue in cheek, as he repeated his message about the Bulls, who are coming off a MAC championship season and a 27-9 record, including a 21-point dusting of Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley pushes the ball upcourt

UB already has a leg up on the 2018-19 season, having defeated St. Francis (PA) in its opener on Tuesday.

One of his biggest challenges will be in putting together a backcourt that doesn’t turn the ball over — a problem in the latter part of the Purdue scrimmage and the first half of the exhibition loss to Penn State. Whether it is Jermaine Haley, who is listed as the starter at point guard (“Who said that? I didn’t,” Huggins said), or Jordan McCabe, West Virginia has miles of progress to make in order to make the offense more smooth.

“Protect the ball,” Huggins said of the job for Haley, or whoever winds up playing the build of the minutes directing the offense. “Don’t throw it out of bounds.”

Part of that process has been learning how to play together, a challenge for the team in more ways than one. In addition to unfamiliarity, injuries have cut into the practice time of some players in the preseason, most notably Beetle Bolden. Praising the toughness of the junior guard, who is battling an injured hand and previously, a high ankle sprain, Huggins said he would “give it a go” in practice on Thursday, then see how he feels on Friday for the game.

Huggins also noted Derek Culver is “fine” after the 6-10 freshman did not play against Penn State for disciplinary reasons.

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WVU holds a 2-1 all-time record against the Bulls, who claimed their only win of the series with a 41-22 epic back in 1918. The Mountaineers countered with a 91-46 home win 73 years later, and took the lead with a 68-62 win in the first round of the 2015 NCAAs. Buffalo has continued to build its program since then, and is picked by many prognosticators to again take home the MAC title.

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