The New Year aside, West Virginia's basketball team is hoping not to suffer any hangover when the Mountaineers jump back into Big East play tonight.
West Virginia (10-4, 1-1 Big East) faces Rutgers (8-6, 0-1) in a 7 p.m. game at the Rutgers Athletic Center. The game will be televised by the Big East Network on Root Sports Pittsburgh.
The Mountaineers are still stinging from an ugly 67-48 loss at Seton Hall last Friday in which they played poorly in virtually every phase, failing to defend against easy baskets and shooting abysmally.
Worst of all, West Virginia failed to get any kind of decent performance from the only three veterans on the roster - Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli. While some still insist on blaming any WVU shortcomings on a preponderance of freshmen, Huggins can't tolerate that.
"Let's don't blame it all on youth,'' Huggins said Tuesday before the team left for its second trip to northern New Jersey in less than a week. "Truck was three-for-16 [shooting from the floor], Deniz didn't have one of his better games and Kevin sprained his ankle.''
True, but playing in their first Big East road game West Virginia's freshmen did little to pick up the slack, something that will eventually have to change. Huggins noted that tonight's game at The RAC will bring the Mountaineers to the midpoint of the season and that should be enough time for them to acclimate both to college basketball and each other.
"We're halfway through the season,'' Huggins said. "I would think that if the jelling process isn't complete, we're in trouble.''
Against Rutgers, though, the Mountaineers will face a team in a similar position. The Scarlet Knights' top three scorers are two freshmen guards and a sophomore center. Freshman Eli Carter is averaging 13.5 points and this week was named the Big East's rookie of the week after averaging 27 points, 4.5 assists, four rebounds and three steals in a rather odd pair of results - an 85-83, two-overtime win against then-No. 10 Florida and a 67-65 loss at South Florida on New Year's Day.
Freshman guard Myles Mack averages 11 points off the bench for the Knights and 6-8 sophomore Gilvydas Biruta averages 10.9 points. Another freshman, guard Jerome Seagears, leads the team in assists and 6-8 freshman Derrick Randall had 10 rebounds against Florida and 10 points at USF.
Still, the best player might be 6-6 junior wing Dane Miller, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists at USF.
"Dane Miller is an elite athlete,'' Huggins said. "He's as good an athlete as there is in the Big East.''