MORGANTOWN — University boys’ basketball head coach Joe Schmidle can’t remember the last time the Hawks had a slate this tough.
Honestly, he’s happier this way.
“I think we need to be more battle-tested. Last year, we played good teams, but not as frequently as we will this year. This year, we have 5-6 games that I feel like we should win; the rest of the games could go either way,” he said.
“The last two years, our average margin of victory has been almost 30 points per game. That’s not going to happen this year.”
The Hawks know the struggles of unpreparedness well. They headed to the state tournament 24-1 last year — a regular-season slip-up to Parkersburg South the only blemish — but their schedule hadn’t readied them for Charleston, as they bowed-out in the state semifinals.
This time around, Schmidle wants things to be different if the Hawks encounter a similar situation.
“I think it’ll help us come tournament time — if we get back to Charleston and see some of the best teams in the state, it’ll help us a lot,” he said.
Junior point guard Kaden Metheny agrees.
“I think the competition is going to benefit us. When we get to Wheeling Park and Morgantown, big games like that, we’ll be prepared for those,” the first team all-state selection said.
The schedule will be highlighted by a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the Beach Ball Classic, a 16-team invitation only tournament. Action will tip-off Dec. 26, where the Hawks will face two-time defending North Carolina state champion Cox Mill, led by 5-star Duke commit Wendell Moore, ranked 18th in the ESPN 100.
“You’re going down there and playing against teams that are elite. It’s going to be challenging to say the least. You can very easily go down to that tournament and come home 0-3,” Schmidle said.
With the tough schedule, UHS will need to bring its A-game, especially after graduating seven seniors, four of whom were starters. Included in that group are Ethan Ridgeway, the all-time leading scorer in UHS history.
“Those seniors are definitely going to be missed. They built the program and they set the expectations high — but they taught these other guys that are coming up well,” Metheny said.
Metheny will look to lead the team alongside junior KJ McClurg, who notched double-figure performances twice at the state tournament, and senior Rodney Bucklew.
“We just need to step it up a little bit. We lost a lot last year. We have experience — we have a lot of the same team, we’re just losing four starters. We just have to step up and take those leadership role,” Bucklew said.
The Hawks will look to return to their trademark style of full-court pressure defense and high-octane fastbreak offense, but Schmidle said defensive issues may impede the success of that strategy.
“We’re going to try and still play that fast. It’s how the kids want to play, it’s the way they train, and it’s the way they’re coached,” Schmidle said. “I think we’re athletic enough and quick enough to do that, but I haven’t seen it on the defensive side of the ball with the full-court pressure and that kind of stuff, which enabled that type of play. We’re long and we’re fast — we’ll see.”