West Virginia (11-1) will put its eight-game win streak on the line Saturday afternoon as it begins the new calendar year on the same day it begins Big 12 Conference play.
The Mountaineers will travel to Austin to take on the No. 17-ranked Texas Longhorns (10-2), who are led by former Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard.
WVU head coach Bob Huggins spoke with the media Friday ahead of his team’s first in-conference contest of the season. Here are the four biggest takeaways.
Players in COVID-19 protocol
West Virginia could be without multiple players going into Saturday’s game against the Longhorns.
When asked about his team’s status heading into the contest, Huggins said that, “We’ve had a few” players deal with COVID-19 over the last couple of days.
He added, that “We have a couple [of players] that will be under the COVID protocol.”
Huggins did not specify which players are in the protocol, nor did he specify how many players would be unavailable to play in Saturday’s matchup.
“Obviously, who makes a big difference. Obviously,” Huggins said. “But we’ve been practicing. I think our guys are ready. We’ve had plenty of time to prepare.”.
West Virginia does boast a deep bench this season.
Under the latest Big 12 policy regarding basketball and COVID-19, all teams need at least six scholarship players and one available coach in order to play.
Using the transfer portal
This year’s Texas team has an almost completely different makeup than last year’s Longhorns roster did.
Beard added 11 new players during the offseason after arriving from Texas Tech. Eight of those newcomers are transfers.
Huggins commended Beard on Friday for how he used the transfer portal to improve his team.
“Chris did a great job in the portal,” said Huggins. “But Chris has been doing it for a while. Chris has been a big guy about taking transfers for a while.”
The transfer portal has been described in many ways by many different people. But Huggins said it’s something he wishes the Mountaineers would’ve been more aggressive in sooner.
“We probably got on it a little bit late,” Huggins said. “But I think that guys that we have brought in have been really productive for us.”
The head coach admitted that he hadn’t taken a lot of transfers at WVU prior to the inception of the portal.
“I think it’s something that we need to do a better job of exploring early on,” he added. “I think we need to do a better job of at least knowing what’s in the portal, and someone who could maybe fill some of our needs.”
Three of West Virginia’s newcomers this season — Dimon Carrigan, Malik Curry and Pauly Paulicap — are transfers.
While there are many schools of thought on the transfer portal, and it’s impact on college athletics, Huggins did offer this thought on how he sees it.
“Most years, if you don’t bring in a transfer or two, you bring in a bunch of freshman. I think that’s a lot harder than bringing guys in who have played somewhere for four years,” he said.
Scouting the Longhorns
Texas has a plethora of new players. Beard’s team can score, but they also can defend as well as any team in the nation.
The Longhorns boast the best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 51.3 points per game. With that shutdown defense, Texas also has the second-best scoring margin in the Big 12, outscoring its opponents by an average of 20.8 points per game.
“Chris has always done a great job of stopping penetration,” Huggins said. “They do pack a side. They pretty much try to make you play on one side of the floor and outnumber you on that side of the floor. And he’s done a great job of it over the years.”
Asked if he thinks it’s possibly more fun to prepare for an impending defensive battle, Huggins said matter-of-factly, “It’s not fun. We’re both trying to win.”
Texas is led by Timmy Allen, who’s averaging just under 12 points per contest. Allen also paces UT in rebounds, averaging 6.4 per game.
“Really talented. Really really talented,” Huggins said of the Longhorns. “They got a lot of guys that can score.”
Dealing with schedule changes
With COVID-19 cases on the rise around the NCAA, and the country at large, schedule changes look to be something that all teams will deal with once again this season.
The Mountaineers had its schedule altered multiple times last year due to the pandemic.
West Virginia has already had one schedule change this season, as its upcoming game against TCU was postponed earlier this week.
“It’s particularly hard for us, because we can’t jump on a bus and go play,” Huggins said, comparing his team’s travel that of other teams in the Big 12. “There’s not a whole lot we can do about it.”
Travel is part of the equation that can make rescheduling games tricky for the Mountaineers. Huggins, however, did say that he doesn’t get any input into the time, date, or location for any games that need to be made up.
“I think you’re all well aware of our travel schedule, and how hard our travel schedule is. It’s hard in a lot of areas. I mean, it’s hard academically,” Huggins said. “The wear and tear of getting back and then having to get up early again. I mean, the travel for us is brutal compared to somebody who jumps in a bus and rides an hour in a bus, and jumps off the bus and plays.”
There’s no changing the way the Mountaineers have to navigate the Big 12 landscape, though.
“It’s been rough. But, I mean, it’s been that way since we joined the league, and we have, I think, combated it about as well as it can be done,” Huggins said.