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WVU, Va. Tech share similarities

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- In a lot of ways, the West Virginia and Virginia Tech basketball teams that meet today in Blacksburg are mirror images of each other.

Both are coming off 13-19 seasons and have drastically rebuilt their rosters. The Mountaineers have just five holdovers (all with starting experience) - three freshmen and two transfers. Virginia Tech has a few more returnees (eight), but also has four freshmen and a transfer.

Shoot, the teams even have similar eligibility issues. Both lost prized freshmen to academics - WVU's Elijah Macon and Tech's Malik Mueller. And others being counted on are shelved, like WVU's Jonathan Holton (ineligible) and Tech's C.J. Barksdale (suspended the first three games).

Of course, all of that will be merely window dressing when the teams play at 1 p.m. today at Cassell Coliseum as part of ESPN's 24-hour tip-off marathon. It's still a chance for these two old foes to get together for only the second time since Virginia Tech left the Big East in 2004.

It's WVU's first trip to Blacksburg since then. The teams played in Morgantown a year ago with West Virginia winning 68-67.

And given all the changes the two teams have made during the offseason, it's hard to tell how this one will play out.

"I think they have more [experience] back than what we have back,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said Monday. "But to be honest, I haven't paid much attention to that. I'm just trying to figure out how to win games.''

Well, if you're looking for differences in the two teams, there's a good place to start. At least in the opener, West Virginia found a way to win, beating Mount St. Marys rather routinely. Virginia Tech wasn't so lucky, falling 64-63 to South Carolina Upstate Saturday at home.

"I don't think there's any question,'' Huggins said of the Hokies' mindset after that loss. "They'll come back with a lot more resolve.''

What the Hokies don't come back with this season - and what makes an even bigger difference than the roster shakeup - is Erick Green. A year ago, Green led the country in scoring and was the ACC player of the year. He's gone now, and with him went Tech's identity.

And so second-year coach James Johnson is trying to piece together parts that might help the Hokies improve. Like Huggins, he could throw together a starting five made up of relative veterans, but he doesn't.

With Green, Barksdale and Robert Brown (transferred to UAB) all gone from last year's lineup, Johnson is starting veterans in the frontcourt and rookies at guard. The best of those frontcourt players is 6-7 senior forward Jarell Eddie, the only Hokie besides Green to average in double figures a year ago. In the backcourt are true freshman point guard Devin Wilson and UNC-Wilmington transfer Adam Smith.

West Virginia, meanwhile, seems likely to play again today without sophomore guard Terry Henderson, who is still dealing with a shin injury. Huggins said Henderson went about 10 minutes in practice Monday, but that was it.

What Huggins would like to see today that he didn't see in Friday's 77-62 win over Mount St. Mary's is better defense and rebounding. The defense, of course, is subjective, but the rebounding isn't. Against a guard-oriented team, the Mountaineers were beaten on the boards 30-28.

"I think over the years those are two things we've done probably better than most,'' Huggins said of defense and rebounding. "We're fortunate we made some shots [WVU shots 67 percent in the first half and 56 percent for the game], but as we all know there's going to be some games when those shots don't go down. We're going to have to stop people and stop them from getting second shots.''

After today's game, the Mountaineers have the rest of the week off until a Sunday afternoon home game against Duquesne. Then there are home games with Georgia Southern and Presbyterian next week as preliminaries to the Cancun Challenge in Mexico the week of Thanksgiving.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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