With the season of gift giving behind them, West Virginia's Mountaineer basketball team is ready to open the Big East season.
After playing a rather meaningless exhibition against Walsh on Dec. 22, WVU took a break before reassembling on Christmas night. The Mountaineers haven't played a game that counts since defeating Cleveland State on Dec. 18.
Today, West Virginia (8-2) plays host to Big East peer St. John's (7-3) in a 7 p.m. game at the Coliseum. The game will be televised by the Big East Network and shown locally by WCHS.
While WVU is the host, though, Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins said the Red Storm presents a host of problems.
"They've got 10 seniors," he said. "[Coach Steve] Lavin has done a really good job of getting them to play together. They run good stuff offensively and have about 106 different defenses."
It would, however, behoove the Mountaineers to win their 11th straight against St. John's today because beating the Red Storm next season could prove troublesome. In his first year at the school, Lavin put together what Rivals.com called the nation's No. 2 recruiting class.
Also, WVU will hit the road after the conference opener for the next three games. The Mountaineers will visit Marquette, DePaul and Georgetown before returning home for a Jan. 13 game against Providence.
For now, though, Huggins is concentrating on a team that might be coming together. After disappointing back-to-back losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham, St. John's rebounded by defeating Davidson and previously unbeaten Northwestern last week to take the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival title.
Dwight Hardy, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, scored 24 points to lift the Red Storm over Northwestern in the title game. He's the team's leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points. Justin Brownlee, a 6-7 senior forward, had a career-high 21 points in the same game. He's St. John's second-leading scorer, averaging 14.1.
"They're playing Brownlee at the [power forward position],'' Huggins said. "He's a very, very skilled four man. He guards really well."
Huggins, however, points to the Red Storm's third-leading scorer as a specific area of concern.
"D.J. Kennedy's hurt us the last couple of years," said the Mountaineer coach. "He's 6-5, has great versatility, runs and can shoot.''
In last season's 79-60 WVU victory at Madison Square Garden, Kennedy was held to four points, but had nine rebounds.
A look at the statistics shows not much separates the two teams with the exception of five areas. WVU is the Big East's No. 1 team in 3-point field goal percentage defense, while St. John's is last. St. John's, meanwhile, is No. 1 in turnover margin, while WVU is 13th.