MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Big 12 co-favorites Kansas and Oklahoma State were ranked No. 5 and No. 8 respectively in the AP preseason basketball poll unveiled Thursday afternoon.
In what is projected to be a down year for the league, Baylor begins the season at No. 25, but no other Big 12 team received votes.
West Virginia, hoping to rebound from a 13-19 record, will face at least one nonconference opponent ranked in the preseason poll, No. 15 Gonzaga. A matchup against No. 20 Wisconsin also could materialize in the championship game of the Cancun Challenge.
The timetable for Remi Dibo’s return from knee surgery makes him probable for the Nov. 8 season opener against Mount St. Mary’s. But the junior college transfer is unlikely to appear in Monday night’s preseason game against Division II Fairmont State.
“I wouldn’t think he’d play the exhibition, but I would think he’d be ready to go by the first game,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said.
Even with a healthy Dibo, the Mountaineers would have only nine scholarship players, fallout from power forwards Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton facing eligibility issues that could sideline them all season. Yet Huggins said the thin roster isn’t necessarily a harbinger of catastrophe.
“We were pretty good in 2010-2011 and we had like eight guys,” he said.
YEAR 2 REVENGE
West Virginia, readying for its second season in the Big 12, wants to avenge last year’s 6-12 conference showing that resulted in an eighth-place finish.
“Just some revenge games,” said forward Kevin Noreen. “We feel like we gave away one at Iowa State last year, so we want that one back. And we got handled pretty well at Baylor, so we want that one back when we go down there.
“We want to play at maximum effort, give 40 minutes and not just 32. We’re not going to stop short this year.”
Sophomore guard Eron Harris—saying he’s energized “to play all these teams that beat us”—sounded enthused for the Mountaineers’ follow-up trip through the conference.
“We’ve got guys who are getting a lot of hype, like Andrew Wiggins, and I just can’t wait to play those guys,” he said.
With Macon and Holton sidelined, West Virginia figures to need bigger minutes from freshman signees Devin Williams, Nate Adrian and Brandon Watkins.
“Probably Brandon has come further, but Brandon had further to come,” Huggins said of the slender 6-foot-9 forward from Decatur, Ga. “Devin, being at Montverde (Academy), played a national schedule and played a lot more games. And Nate picks things up pretty fast.
“They’ve got a lot to learn, particularly at the defensive end, about continuing to play, because they’re just used to resting on defense (in high school). It’s just the way it is.”
The muscle-bound 6-9 Williams arrived with a college-ready physique, though he needed time to improve his conditioning.
“Devin’s come a long way since the summer,” Noreen said. “I remember his first day here we went up and down a few times in open gym and he caught a bad cramp and couldn’t play the rest of the day. I think he’s past that now.”
While teammates noticed Williams impacting summer-league games in Pittsburgh and having beast-mode moments during the Gold-Blue scrimmage, apparently it’s the day-to-day practices where he needs to bring the same energy.
“Games are different, where you only have to go hard about for four minutes and you get a break,” Noreen said. “In practices, it’s going to be three hours and you have to learn to sustain it.”
Said Harris: “In practice sometimes I have to get on him about going hard or getting intense. He could really step his game up that much more if he did that. He’ll figure it out though. Dev is really going to do some good things.”