The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 4, 2014

Mountaineers begin Big 12 play on the road against TCU

One season is over. The Mountaineers finished the nonconference portion of the 2013-14 basketball season with an 8-5 record, winning the games they were expected to win — Mount St. Mary’s, Duquesne, Georgia Southern, Presbyterian, Old Dominion, Loyola, Marshall and William & Mary — and losing all of the games against power conference teams — Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga and Purdue.

It certainly wasn’t the November and December for which head coach Bob Huggins was hoping. West Virginia fell just short of statement victories against No. 10 Wisconsin (70-63) and No. 20 Gonzaga (74-64) that would have been helpful in building its postseason resume. But with a new year comes a new opportunity.

WVU begins Big 12 play today at 4 p.m., at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, taking on TCU (9-3) for the first of two games in three days. The game will air locally on WOAY television.

“There’s so much familiarity,” said Huggins of the difference in league games. “Everybody’s played 12 games or so, and there’s so much tape you can watch.”

But nothing in WVU’s second trip around the conference will come easily.

“I think the difference in this league is that it’s not top heavy like the Big East was,” said Huggins. “You can’t look at the schedule and say, ‘We ought to win this one and this one.’ You just can’t do that in the Big 12.”

TCU is one of those teams that was supposed to be among the conference’s worst. But after an 0-2 start, the Horned Frogs have won nine of their last 10 games, the most impressive win coming against Mississippi State out of the SEC.

The numbers, though, tell a different story. TCU is just ninth out of 10 Big 12 teams in scoring at 70.2 points per game and ninth in field goal percentage at 44 percent. The Horned Frogs are last in rebounding with 34.9 boards per game.

It’s numbers like those that caused the Horned Frogs to be picked last in the Big 12 preseason poll.

There have been some bright spots for head coach Trent Johnson, including junior point guard Kyan Anderson, who’s averaging 16.5 points and 5.3 assists per game. Freshman forward Karviar Shepherd, a big-time recruit, has made an immediate impact, averaging 8.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

“They didn’t have size a year ago,” said Huggins, who said both the Horned Frogs’ zone defense and an offense that scored just 50 points in two losses to the Mountaineers last season, are better as a result. “I think that makes a big difference.

“I think they’re playing faster, and when you have a point guard that draws so much attention, you’re going to get good looks.”

WVU — which will be on an opponent’s home floor for just the third time this season, it lost the first two at Virginia Tech and Missouri — is coming off perhaps its best performance of the year. The Mountaineers went to Charleston Sunday and thumped a William & Mary team that had won at Rutgers and taken Wichita State to the wire 82-45.

Terry Henderson, who is slowly rounding into form after an offseason injury, scored 19 points in that game, while freshman forward Nathan Adrian scored 16.

On the season, WVU is paced by sophomore guard Eron Harris (18.3 ppg) and junior point guard Juwan Staten, who’s averaging 16.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists per contest.

“We’ve just got to play for 40 minutes,” said Huggins of the focus of his team at this point in the year. “You can’t take plays off. You can’t get ahead and then take shots that you wouldn’t take in a close game.

“Hopefully we’re getting better at that. But you don’t want to give up runs like we’re giving up.”

The Mountaineers won’t get much time to rest after today’s game. They’ll stay on the road to play at Texas Tech Monday at 7 p.m., before returning back to the Mountain State.

— E-mail: chuffman

@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH

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