West Virginia men’s hoops tips off their 111th season on Friday at home against Akron.
The Mountaineers are looking to make a rebound after their down season just a year ago. That change begins in the locker room, which players say has undergone a culture change ahead of the season.
“Everybody enjoys playing with each other, we all love working for each other and we all come in every day with an open mind,” said senior guard Jermaine Haley. “Sometimes we don’t like doing stuff, some days guys are tired as they should be, but it’s a lot better than last year.”
With a new convention for the future, the Mountaineers will square off against a squad from coach Bob Huggins’s past, where he got his start in coaching Division I basketball: the Akron Zips.
The Zips are obviously is much different than they were when Huggins manned their bench. John Groce now heads the program in his second year after leading Akron to a 17-16 debut campaign, and they already have a win under their belt after defeating Malone 81-64 on Tuesday.
Akron doesn’t lack experience, with upperclassmen filling four of their starting spots, as well as transfers like Xeyrius Williams from Dayton who are making immediate impacts. Their main threat, though, is their ability to score the basketball.
“They spread you because they all can make shots,” Huggins said. “They’ll maybe put one guy on the floor that isn’t a real good three point shooter, so they try to get you spread out to where they can screen and roll.”
As for West Virginia, they are looking to get back on the winning track for season openers after dropping their previous two.
They will get it going with a loaded backcourt and a talented frontcourt, and an all-around versatile lineup in which several players can play in multiple spots.
The Mountaineers are particularly full at the guard position this year, as Huggins says four players could potentially play the guard position. Jordan McCabe will likely get the start in his sophomore season, after getting 15 starts last year.
“I think if we went out and played really hard, I don’t think other people are going to have the depth particularly that we do on the perimeter,” Huggins said.
Of course, WVU will have some of their marquee returners on the floor in Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Derek Culver, hoping to build on their breakout freshman campaigns alongside McCabe.
Lots of Mountaineers will be making their official debut at the Coliseum, including freshman Oscar Tshiebwe. The former McDonald’s All-American has already gotten the chance to perform in front of Mountaineer fans, earning a double-double in a preseason scrimmage against Duquesne.
Along with the new freshmen, Huggins will debut two new junior college additions in Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil. Having played on the Coliseum court twice already, the new guys are excited to see what the environment is like when the games actually count.
“I just liked the whole total atmosphere,” Sherman said ahead of his debut. “It’s going to get way crazier than that, you can already feel the atmosphere of West Virginia. That’s one of the reasons I came here, just like that family sense of the fans putting their all into you and seeing what type of player you become.”
The Mountaineers and the Zips tip off on Friday night at 7 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. The match-up will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet and on WVUSports.com, or you can stay updated with our live game log from the Coliseum as the game happens and follow our social media pages.