NEW YORK - WVU men’s basketball will play at Madison Square Garden tonight for the first time since 2015 – an opportunity head coach Bob Huggins thinks his players will relish.
“I don’t really remember a lot from my playing career, but I remember playing in the Garden,” said Huggins. “I remember walking in the Garden for the first time; the Knicks were finishing up practice when we walked in. What do they say it’s called – the mecca – and I think that’s where guys really develop their reputation, is when they play in that kind of atmosphere.”
West Virginia (5-2) will take on Florida (4-3) at 9 p.m. in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic. Huggins’ Mountaineers have appeared in the Jimmy V Classic twice before, losing games to Davidson in 2008 and Virginia in 2015.
“This will be the game of the day, because it’s Jimmy V,” said Huggins. “The Jimmy V game gets more publicity than probably any other three games or four games.”
But these two marque programs from the Big 12 and SEC have struggled early in the season. West Virginia opened the year by losing two of its first three, while the Gators lost to Florida State, Oklahoma and Stanford in the first month of the season.
A big non-conference win in New York would allow the Mountaineers to extend their winning streak to five games, but they continue to struggle with injuries to juniors James “Beetle” Bolden and Sagaba Konate.
Huggins said he thinks he’ll learn a lot about his team during this matchup, but only if everyone is available.
“That’s been the big if,” said Huggins. “Obviously, Sags makes a difference back there, and he’s a guy you can throw it close to and score. Beetle is by far our best point guard. He’s got the most experience, he understands things pretty much inside and out. The other guys are gonna be good, it’s just gonna take a while.”
The Mountaineers have clicked offensively in recent games, most noticeably in Saturday’s 106-72 victory over Youngstown State, in which WVU put up season highs in points scored and shooting percentage.
In fact, the Mountaineers have made 49 percent of their shots during this four game winning streak, an improvement on the 41 percent they shot during a 1-2 start to the campaign.
WVU also averages 86.4 points per game, about 15 points more than the Gators, but Florida’s 62.4 points allowed mark is far lower than WVU’s 75.9 points allowed average.
The Gators have also committed fewer turnovers per game and forced more steals per game than the Mountaineers.