Digging into West Virginia’s nonconference hoops schedule

Virginia coach Tony Bennett returns most of his rotation, including Malcolm Brogdon (15), from last season’s ACC regular-season champion. The Cavaliers meet West Virginia on Dec. 8 at Madison Square Garden.


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Peppered with a few big-name opponents who may or may not be big-time next season, here are four takeaways from West Virginia’s 13-game nonconference basketball schedule released Tuesday:

1. Not so scary: Should a matchup against San Diego State materialize in Las Vegas, then West Virginia will face two teams coming off NCAA tournament appearances. If not, Virginia will be it.

While last year’s beasts can become this year’s leasts and vice versa, there’s a chance this schedule can be quite navigable.

Another potential Vegas foe, Cal (18-15) hasn’t reached the NCAAs in two seasons, though Cuonzo Martin pulled in the No. 4-ranked incoming class according to Rivals. Will those pups be galvanized by late November?

Florida remains a marquee program, though you wouldn’t know it from last season when the Gators (16-17) regressed considerably. And who knows how the menu will look under new management.

In other road game news, the Virginia Tech series shifts back to Blacksburg, where Buzz Williams is trying to muster talent and interest after an 11-22 debut.

WVU’s home schedule is built for padding, featuring the likes of Northern Kentucky (13-17), Kennesaw State (10-22), Liberty (8-24) and Bethune-Cookman (11-21). Eastern Kentucky, after going 21-12, must remodel without its top two scorers and coach Jeff Neubauer, and Louisiana-Monroe (24-14) also lost its leading scorer from a team that rode the CBI magic carpet all the way up to No. 131 in the RPI.

With that lineup, it’s hard to imagine Coliseum parking being an issue.

Two Charleston dates involve James Madison (19-14), which hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 1999 and 2000, and the annual grinder against Marshall (11-21), which Dan D’Antoni sagely began marketing last December as the “We’re Back Classic.”

At first blush, going 12-1 in the nonleague portion—as WVU did last season—looks reasonable. Anything less, a tad disheartening.

2. Back to MSG: West Virginia can’t mine New York like it did during the Big East Era, but Bob Huggins’ staff still hopes to keep the WV logo recognizable for the occasional Big Apple recruit. So, for the second straight season, the Mountaineers will play a neutral-court game at Madison Square Garden against an ACC foe—this time against Virginia.

With Justin Anderson departing for the NBA, the Cavaliers may not be No. 1-seed material again, but they’ll certainly begin as a top-25 club with ample experience. And that offensive patience against WVU’s let’s-play-faster press will make for an interesting clash of styles.

Florida Gators fans make the 12,000-seat O-Dome a noisy experience for Gainesville visitors.


3. First trip to the O-Dome: As part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge—staged for maximum TV effect next season on Saturday, Jan. 30—the Mountaineers visit the always raucous O’Connell Center. And for the first time in 19 years, Billy Donovan won’t be on the Gators’ bench. Enter 38-year-old Michael White, formerly head coach of Louisiana Tech (and the son of Duke’s AD), who no doubt benefited from Donovan making the jump to OKC after much of the college coaching shuffle transpired.

West Virginia, which is 0-2 in the still-new SEC Challenge, hasn’t faced Florida since December 2003 when the Gators won 70-57 in Miami. (Sophomore Kevin Pittsnogle took an 0-for-5 doughnut that night.)

4. Call me Al: As in Skinner, the new coach at Kennesaw State and a past-life conference peer of the Mountaineers over 15 seasons at Rhode Island (Atlantic 10) and Boston College (Big East).

He’ll be 63 by the time he coaches his first game at Kennesaw State, an Atlanta-area university with more than 32,000 students but zero basketball tradition, at least in Division I. The Owls own a 43-143 record since transitioning to the Atlantic Sun Conference six seasons ago.

MORE: Here’s the Mountaineers’ full 2015-16 nonconference schedule, with Big 12 games to be finalized this summer.