MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - To suggest that West Virginia has instantly and somehow magically cured all the ills that characterized last year's 13-19 team would be to stretch the truth.
Yes, through the first eight games of the season the Mountaineers have won six times and by a whopping average of nearly 27 points. While a great deal of that can be attributed to unquestionably improved play - primarily in the area of shooting - the schedule, in part by design, has also been less than taxing.
Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins will readily admit that in a couple of the primary areas where his best teams have always excelled - namely rebounding and defense - this group still has a long way to go.
But just as the schedule is about to become more challenging - a road game Thursday at 7-0 Missouri, then a Tuesday home game against No. 19 Gonzaga - the Mountaineers are also showing improvement. West Virginia could not possibly have rebounded the ball any better than it did in walloping Loyola of Maryland 96-47 Monday night at the Coliseum. Defensively, WVU held the nation's second-leading scorer, Dylon Cormier, 17 points below his 28-point average and limited the Greyhounds to 34-percent shooting and just seven second-shot opportunities.
Again, the competition might have been less than top-shelf - although Loyola's only loss before Monday was by 10 points at No. 12 Connecticut - but prior to that West Virginia had outrebounded only two teams (Georgia Southern and Presbyterian) and ranked No. 222 in the country in rebounding margin.
Although no new NCAA statistics are out, Monday's 62-22 rebounding margin would have moved the Mountaineers from No. 222 to No. 103 (top one-third) in just one game.
And while no one expects a rash of 40-rebound margins from WVU, the Mountaineers do seem to have the potential to be competitive in that area.
"We have potential,'' said junior Kevin Noreen, who with eight rebounds was one of a group of all five starters who had at least seven. "If we play big, we're going to have a 6-9 guy at the 3 [small forward] spot. So we should be able to rebound.
"But other than that, Coach Huggins just stresses it. A lot.''