Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

West Virginia has opportunity to make a name for itself against No. 15 UConn

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia debuted at No. 73 in the country in the initial NCAA NET rankings released Monday.

The rankings are used by the NCAA tournament selection committee to determine at-large bids and seeding for the tournament.

“We definitely saw it,” WVU forward Isaiah Cottrell said. “We’ve definitely got to take care of every team we play. The games we know we can win, we’ve got to go out and win the games. We can’t just scrape by. We need to take care of business.”



If nothing else, the first batch of rankings — that literally change daily as each game is played — was a sign that the road to the NCAA tournament for the Mountaineers (7-1) is uphill rather than smooth sailing.

Which sets up Wednesday’s game against No. 15 Connecticut (8-1), a huge opportunity for WVU to begin to gain national respect.

“Just to show all the voters and all the fans that we deserved to be ranked higher,” Cottrell continued. “This is a big game for us.”

To be sure, there will be other opportunities as the season progresses. Games against Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, Baylor and Iowa State could begin to feel more like a gauntlet than a basketball schedule.

Yet, the first big-time game of the season still brings with it a higher level of anticipation, and the Mountaineers enter this match-up with their own likes and dislikes.

They are at home playing the 15th-ranked team in the country, just the 15th time in WVU Coliseum history that a top 15 nonconference opponent has visited the arena.

UConn enters the game hurting. Starting guard Tyrese Martin (12.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is out with a fracture in his left wrist, while starting forward Adama Sanogo (15.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg) is out with an abdominal strain.

They represent two of the Huskies’ top three scorers and rebounders.

As far as obstacles, WVU head coach Bob Huggins said his team’s list is too long.

“Well, we’re trying to get them to throw the ball to the team that has the same color jersey. We don’t rebound it. Other than a couple of guys, we haven’t made shots. We haven’t made free throws,” Huggins began. “You want me to keep going?”

There was no need to keep going.

So, what you’ll likely have today is two teams searching for some sort of identity. While UConn is looking for a way to be successful without two of its better players, the Mountaineers wonder if they belong in the national conversation.

WVU should get a boost from the return of senior guard Sean McNeil, who missed the Radford game with a back injury.

On his radio show Monday, Huggins said McNeil was practicing again, but gave no definite answer on Tuesday if he would play or not.

Even without two of its top rebounders, UConn’s work in the paint will be a determining factor.

The Huskies average 44 rebounds per game and are fourth in the nation averaging 16 offensive rebounds.

“Every single person on their team probably averages at least three rebounds,” Cottrell said. “It’s impressive. We’ve got to play harder and see what happens.”

Huggins said the Huskies overall athleticism and the way their players get out and run will be another factor.

In its first game without Sanogo and Martin, UConn went with more of a full-court pressing defense and played nine guys 12 minutes or more in a 29-point win against Grambling.

“We’re going to have to play this way moving forward,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said after the game.

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WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: WVU Coliseum
TV: ESPN2 (Comcast 36, HD 851; DirecTV 209; DISH 143)