A reunion, a homecoming and a basketball game will all occur at Youngstown’s Covelli Center when No. 25 West Virginia faces Youngstown State on Saturday at 1 p.m.
WVU coach Bob Huggins will face one of his former assistants in Youngstown State coach Jerrod Calhoun, who spent six seasons as an assistant at both West Virginia and Cincinnati. Now in his third year at Youngstown State, his Penguins have shown signs of growth every season.
“He’s a basketball guy,” Huggins said. “He’s a good coach.”
Calhoun and Huggins will face one another for the second time after the Mountaineers coasted to a 106-72 victory over the Penguins last season in Morgantown.
Much attention will be on West Virginia’s Derek Culver, a Youngstown native and one of the top big men in the Big 12. The sophomore missed last year’s game due to a suspension, but in the meantime, Huggins says he’s grown quite a bit.
“Derek’s grown up a lot,” Huggins said. “I think he’s more serious about his game, he’s done a great job in the classroom.”
Culver once again leads the Big 12 in rebounding with 9.6 per game, a post he manned last year as a freshman. He also posted a career high in scoring in the Mountaineers’ contest with Rhode Island, when he dropped 25 points on the Rams.
Still, Huggins is quick to remind that his prized forward has a long way to go as a player.
“I tell Derek every once in a while that it would be better if he didn’t have to rebound his own miss,” Huggins said.
Speaking of growth, one of the Penguins’ biggest assets is in their returners. Seven of their top eight scorers from a season ago are back for this year, and their play has shown signs of improvement since.
“[They’re] up-tempo, I don’t think they’re shooting as many threes as they shot a year ago,” Huggins said. “But they really do try to exploit the line.”
Huggins is correct about the first notion — this year, Youngstown State is taking 23 shots from deep every game, down 4.8 from a year ago. In addition, they are handling the ball better than last season, giving it up 11.6 attempts per contest, an improvement from their 13.2-turnover average from 2018-2019.
Sophomore Darius Quisenberry contributes the brunt of YSU’s scoring load, chipping in 14.8 points every trip on 41.2 percent shooting.
The 7-5 Penguins are hoping this can lead to their first-ever victory over the 9-1 Mountaineers, who have won all five meetings dating back to a matchup at the Mountaineer Field House in 1942.
Back in the rankings
West Virginia’s reentry into the AP top 25 at no. 25 marks the 100th week the Mountaineers have been in the rankings during Huggins’s tenure, the most under any coach in program history.
With several months to go in the season and the full conference slate ahead of them, Huggins downplayed the ranking a bit — but he says it meant quite a bit to the players.
“I think the players kind of liked it, they were happy about it,” Huggins said. “…I guess the thing that our guys used to say in the past is the reason they want to be in there is because their highlights are on ESPN.”
Just like the old days
This game won’t be broadcast on any television station or streamed anywhere, the only such game on the Mountaineers’ schedule this season. Fans can tune in to hear Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs on the Mountaineer Sports Network from Learfield IMG College, and the action tips off at 1 p.m.
You can also follow our live coverage on WVIllustrated.com and on social media, as we will be at the Covelli Center for the matchup!