Breaking Down West Virginia’s Non-Conference Opponents

Ask for the “Huggins Special” at your local Little General.

One of the things you really have to appreciate about Bob Huggins, is that even when he schedules down a little, he still manages to put together a pretty good slate of games that gets his team in a position at the end of the year.

It would be easy for him to do otherwise. Especially in a year where you’ll be breaking in a new front court. He could load up the non-conference with the St. James State Fairmont A&M’s of the world and cruise to a 12-0 record going into the Big XII schedule — but that just ain’t his style.

Instead Huggins chooses to schedule good-for-their-level mid-majors that will compete in their conference and can keep the Mountaineers honest; I call these the “Huggins Special.” He also mixes in quality games against good opponents.

WVU lacks a “marquee” game like it had last year against Virginia (Tennessee was determined by the Big XII), but neutral site games vs Florida and Rhode Island, combined with a whale of an opener in Buffalo provide plenty of heft to go along with the aforementioned “Huggins Special.”

It also sees the second game of the revival of the “Backyard Brawl” with a rebuilding Pitt.

So, without further ado, lets break down each of our non-conference opponents.


Buffalo Bulls

Last Season

27-9 (15-3); MAC Tournament Champions; NCAA R32

Predicted Conference Finish

1st

Record vs WVU all-time

1-2

Key Players

CJ Massinburg

Takeaway

The Bulls are absolutely a dangerous season opener. They return most of their talent from an NCAA tournament squad that absolutely embarrassed Arizona in the opening round. WVU has not always fared well in such situations, especially without proven guard play. So look for this to be a good test of where the Mountaineers are to open the season.

Difficulty


Monmouth Hawks

Last Season

11-20 (7-11); 7th place MAAC

Predicted Conference Finish

6th

Record vs WVU all-time

0-1

Key Players

Deion Howard

Takeaway

This is part of an “unbracketed” game in the Myrtle Beach Invitational, so it technically counts as a neutral site game for SOS purposes. Monmouth struggled last season after having a ‘Cinderella’ season in 2016-17. Look for WVU to simple overwhelm the Hawks.

Difficulty


Bracketed Myrtle Beach Invitational Games

Takeaway

WVU will play two “bracketed” games in Conway, SC. Their opening match is with the winner of Valparaiso/Western Kentucky. Ideally both the tournament organizers and WVU would like a face off with either St. Joe’s from the A10 or Wake Forest in the final match up. I would think WVU would be favored against basically anyone on this field though.

Difficulty


Valparaiso Crusaders

Last Season

15-17 (6-12); 10th place MVC

Predicted Conference Finish

6th

Record vs WVU all-time

1-0

Key Players

Bakari Evelyn

Takeaway

This is part of an “unbracketed” game in the Myrtle Beach Invitational, but unlike the game with Monmouth, will be played in Morgantown. The Crusaders are one of the original “Cinderellas” and have consistently been a top mid-major program, but a change in coaches (this is the home of the Drew family of coaches) and a move from the Horizon League to the much tougher Missouri Valley saw Valpo have its worth season since 2009-10.

Difficulty


Rider Broncos

Last Season

22-10 (15-3); MAAC Regular Season Champions; NIT 1st Round

Predicted Conference Finish

1st

Record vs WVU all-time

1-2

Key Players

Stevie Jordan

Takeaway

Last year’s MAAC regular season champion returns five double-digit point scorers on a team that averaged an eye-popping 82-points a game. Their defense, however, was a bit on the swiss-chese style. This has Huggins Special written all over it.

Difficulty


Youngstown State Penguins

Last Season

8-24 (6-12); 9th Place Horizon League

Predicted Conference Finish

9th

Record vs WVU all-time

0-4

Key Players

Naz Bohannon

Takeaway

This game is on the schedule because Youngstown State’s head coach is former WVU director of basketball operations and Fairmont State head coach Jarrod Calhoun. Look for YSU to be an improved team in Calhoun’s second year, but not nearly enough to give WVU more than a few minutes of sweat.

Difficulty


Florida Gators

Last Season

21-13 (11-7); 3rd Place SEC; NCAA R32

Predicted Conference Finish

4th

Record vs WVU all-time

5-3

Key Players

KeVaughn Allen

Takeaway

The Gators represent a major step up in competition, and this game will be played on a neutral court with a primetime national audience as part of the JIMMY V CLASSIC. The Gators have some key losses, such as Chris Chiozza but have plenty of talent. This will definitely be a good measuring stick for WVU and the best opportunity outside of the opener against Buffalo to get a Resume Win before conference play.

Difficulty


Pitt Panthers

Last Season

8-24 (0-18); 14th place ACC

Predicted Conference Finish

14th

Record vs WVU all-time

88-97

Key Players

Jared Wilson-Frame, Shamiel Stevenson and Khameron Davis

Takeaway

It would be hard to have a worse season than Pitt endured in the final year of the Kevin Stalling Experiment. No, really. The Panthers were absolutely dreadful. New coach Jeff Capell will have his hands full as virtually what talent was left transferred out. This is the Backyard Brawl, however, so it should be competitive regardless.

Difficulty


Rhode Island Rams

Last Season

26-8 (15-3); A10 Regular Season Champs; NCAA R32

Predicted Conference Finish

5th

Record vs WVU all-time

12-20

Key Players

Jeff Dowtin

Takeaway

After consecutive NCAA R32 appearances, Rhode Island is in full rebuilding mode, having lost four starters and dynamic recruiter and coach Dan Hurley to UCONN. Still the Rams have some talent and this will be another neutral site game as part of the BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME HOLIDAY SHOWCASE.

Difficulty


Jacksonville State Gamecocks

Last Season

23-13 (11-7); 4th Place Patriot League

Predicted Conference Finish

3rd

Record vs WVU all-time

0-4

Key Players

Jason Burnell

Takeaway

The Gamecocks are another Huggins Special in that they could challenge for their league title and help your metrics at the end of the season without being really very dangerous.

Difficulty


Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Last Season

16-14 (11-7); 4th Place Ohio Valley Conference

Predicted Conference Finish

3rd

Record vs WVU all-time

This game will be the first ever meeting between the two programs.

Key Players

Kyle Leufroy

Takeaway

Lehigh returns a number of players from last year’s squad and should be fine in the Patriot League, but will be little more than a last minute tune up before Big XII play.

Difficulty


Tennessee Volunteers

Last Season

26-9 (13-5); SEC Regular Season Co-Champions; NCAA R32

Predicted Conference Finish

2nd

Record vs WVU all-time

3-5

Key Players

Admiral Schofield

Takeaway

Part of the SEC/BIG XII Challenge, this game poses numerous problems for WVU. It’s situated smack dab in the middle of the conference schedule (though at least we get five days to prep and three days off before a trip to always dangerous Ames.) The Vols will look to be a top 10 team and challenging for a top seed with virtually their entire team back from last season, including the multi-talented Admiral Schofield. I am told that Tennessee is now a basketball school.

Difficulty

Source: Smoking Musket