MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Welcome to the Cancun Challenge, where the West Virginia men’s basketball team will enjoy sunny weather and sandy beaches during the Thanksgiving holiday. That is next week. For now, the Challenge has some preliminary games it must go through and that is what the Mountaineers are facing today against Northern Colorado (2-2) at the WVU Coliseum.
The Mountaineers will host the Bears, as well as Boston University (7 p.m. Friday), before traveling to the actual Cancun Challenge, where it will face Northern Iowa in the first round and then either Wichita State or South Carolina in the second round.
That is all down the line, and we take them one game at a time here, so, for now, here’s what you need to know:
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Comcast chs. 37, 843 HD; DirecTV 659; DISH 428) for the 7 p.m. game. BETTING LINE: WVU is a 15 1/2-point favorite.
JUST BECAUSE NORTHERN COLORADO IS IN TOWN
There was no other way for me to tie in this spectacular dunk to today’s game other than to simply put it on display. This is Jordan Davis during last season’s Big Sky tournament. He was a senior last season and not a member of Northern Colorado’s team this season, but this play is worth a few more looks:
THREE GOOD QUESTIONS
WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM BEATING PITT? I think we learned that this West Virginia team will compete, overcome a little adversity and also execute halftime adjustments. “Our help defense was much better in the second half. Our rebounding was better in the second half,” WVU point guard Jordan McCabe said after the 68-53 victory against the Panthers. “We didn’t let their guards get downhill, which is all they wanted to do.”
As for signs as to how this team will compete in the Big 12, I’m not buying the win over Pitt showed anything like that. The Panthers were 3-15 in ACC play last season, and sure, Pitt is improved — to that point, so are the Mountaineers, too — but I just don’t think the win over Pitt is going to end up being a huge impact on WVU’s strength of schedule come February.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE BEARS? A ton of 3-point attempts. Northern Colorado is 23rd in the nation with 10.5 made 3-pointers per game. Sophomore guard Bodie Hume is 11 of 30 from behind the arc to lead the way. The Bears finished 21-11 last season and return four starters from that team. The other thing you can expect is Northern Colorado will compete. The Bears have already faced Texas on the road, a 69-45 loss, and also lost in overtime at Northern Iowa. Hard to think Northern Colorado will come in overwhelmed.
WHAT’S THE EARLY TAKE ON WVU? There are a number of different options here, including Emmitt Matthews Jr. developing into an X factor, as well as if the Mountaineers’ perimeter defense is improving or not? My biggest question is about forwards Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe and whether or not they can both play well at the same time? Against Akron, Tshiebwe got in early foul trouble and hardly played, so Culver took over and finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Against Pitt, Culver got in some foul trouble and had to fight through some double teams from the Panthers and struggled, while Tshiebwe finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds. I would like to see a few games where both big men play well together to make me believe that WVU playing big is actually the right thing to do.
Northern Colorado basically starts four guards, so it will be interesting to see if WVU can use its size advantage inside and get Tshiebwe and Culver playing well together. WVU had trouble guarding the 3-point shot last season, so we’ll see if that’s improved. The thought here is WVU will win and barely cover the point spread, 87-70.
JUSTIN’S RECORD AGAINST THE SPREAD: 2-0.