Coming into the season, Bob Huggins needed just nine wins to reach 700 for his career. He was asked what that win would mean to him, and he just said it meant that his team would be nine-and-something.
Well, Thursday night, West Virginia (8-2) will face Missouri State (7-3) in Las Vegas, with an opportunity to win its ninth game of the season, and help Huggins reach the milestone.
The Bears may come from a mid-major conference (Missouri Valley), and the Mountaineers will be favored to come away victorious, but Missouri State won't be an easy out for WVU.
It's been a streaky season so far for Missouri State. After winning their first four games, the Bears went on a three-game losing streak. Now, they're in the middle of a three-game winning streak and will look to extend that Thursday night.
Kyle Weems leads Missouri State with 14.6 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. Caleb Patterson adds 12.9 points for the Bears. Weems may lead the team, but two of his three highest point totals for the season have come in losses. When Patterson scores in double digits, the Bears are 6-1.
Missouri State hasn't been overwhelming from the free throw line this season, but it is one area in which the Bears have a clear advantage over the Mountaineers. Foul shots have been a weakness for WVU all season, and in most games, they've been able to overcome it. They may be able to on Thursday, too, but once the schedule gets tougher, free throws will have to start going down.
In most other areas of the game, West Virginia seems to have an edge. Most obviously, the Mountaineers should be able to win the battle on the boards. Not since a loss to Kent State in the second game of the season has West Virginia been out-rebounded, though Tennessee Tech did tie them with 33 on Monday night.
Kevin Jones has established himself as one of the best rebounders in the country so far, and is clear leader of this West Virginia team. The senior averages a double-double, with 20.8 points per game, and 11.3 rebounds.
Jones has scored at least 20 points in six of WVU's first ten games, and has put up double digits in every game. He's also earned a double-double in six games so far.
The Mountaineers also get scoring contributions from Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli. Neither of those two have failed to score at least ten in a game, either. Bryant has stepped up as the team's go-to outside shooter, hitting 33 percent of his three-pointers this season.
Kilicli has shown improvement on both sides of the ball, despite getting in the doghouse with Huggins in the game against Texas A&M Corpus Christi. A group of freshmen has also stepped up for the Mountaineers, helping the team improve since that early loss to Kent State.
Thursday night's game will tip at 8 p.m. and will be available on ESPN3. It will be third game of the Las Vegas Classic for WVU. It will be a quick turnaround for the Mountaineers, who will go up against #7 Baylor Friday night.
Thursday's game comes first, though, and for Huggins, it will be an opportunity to see his team earn its ninth win. For everyone else, it will be a chance to see Huggins earn his 700th.