By Cam Huffman
West Virginia’s men’s basketball team turned away one pesky rival Wednesday, taking down Marshall 69-59 in the Capital Classic, but now there’s another old foe knocking on the door like a policeman at 2 a.m., ready to end the party.
WVU and Virginia Tech have played 75 times since 1921 — with WVU leading the all-time series 46-29 — but they haven’t met on the hardwood since a 53-49 Hokie victory in Blacksburg in 2004. That will change today at 4 p.m., when the Hokies visit Morgantown for a critical nonconference meeting that will be aired live on ESPN2.
More than 14,000 fans are expected to pack the WVU Coliseum, an indication of how much the old rivalry was missed.
“I was aware of the Marshall rivalry, but I wasn’t really aware of the Virginia Tech rivalry, until Coach Huggins gave us a little background on that,” said WVU sophomore guard Juwan Staten, a Dayton transfer who is averaging 11 points and leads the team with 12 steals in his first season with the Mountaineers. “It’s a big game. It’s been sold out for a while, and that kind of puts it in perspective.”
“We’ll have a sellout crowd, providing the students come,” agreed WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “I think it will be a great atmosphere.”
The teams followed two very different paths to today’s game.
Virginia Tech, under first-year head coach James Johnson, a former Hokie assistant who replaced the ousted Seth Greenberg after nine seasons and only one NCAA Tournament berth, didn’t have huge expectations for the 2012-13 campaign, but the first month of the season has changed the outlook for Hokie fans.
Tech is 7-0 on the year, and its last two victories came at home against Iowa and No. 15 Oklahoma State. The Hokies lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring offense, averaging 86.1 points per game, and they also lead the league in both free throw and 3-point percentage.
Senior point guard Erick Green is the ACC’s top scorer, averaging 24.9 points per game, and junior forward Jarell Eddie leads all conference members in 3-pointers made (19) and 3-point percentage (.528).
“They’re a great team,” said Staten. “They’re undefeated right now, and we’re trying to get back on track. It’s going to be a great game.”
The Mountaineers, who have made the NCAA Tournament in each of Huggins’ five seasons in Morgantown, came into the year with that same goal in mind, but the early part of the season was a little rough.
WVU, playing with three new starters, opened the season with an embarrassing 84-50 loss on the road at No. 19 Gonzaga, and after picking up the first win of the season at the Old Spice Classic in Florida, 87-44 over Marist, the Mountaineers lost the final two games of that tournament, 63-60 to Davidson and 77-70 to Oklahoma.
WVU responded to its 1-3 start with a win over Virginia Military last week, and, after a full week without games, it looked much better in many aspects against Marshall.
“We practiced a lot in that week before games, and we’re getting better and better,” said senior forward Deniz Kilicli, who leads the Mountaineers with 11.3 points per game. “That’s a great feeling.”
Unlike the Hokies, though, WVU has struggled to score. The Mountaineers rank sixth in the Big 12 in scoring at 71.7 points per game, and they’re last in the league in both field goal percentage (.406) and 3-point percentage (.230).
“We’re capable of making shots,” said Huggins, downplaying the numbers this early in the season. “(Sophomore guard) Jabarie (Hinds) shot the ball extremely well before we started playing games, and he’s really struggled. (Freshman guard) Terry Henderson certainly can shoot the ball, and (sophomore guard) Gary Browne has shot it pretty well.
“I’ve got guys that have played five games. That’s a big difference.”
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