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Bock: PK85 Gives West Virginia First Chance to Showcase Improvements Nationally

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Everyone in West Virginia’s basketball program seems to have a chip on their shoulder this year. From Bob Huggins to his new additions, it seems like everyone has something to prove.

This week, the Mountaineers will have their first chance to showcase their improvements nationally at the Phil Knight Legacy tournament in Portland, Ore. West Virginia will match up with No. 24 Purdue in the first round with the winner most likely playing No. 6 Gonzaga. On the other side of the field, No. 8 Duke, Florida and Xavier stand as other great opponents in the tournament.

“We’re going to try to go out there in Portland for three games and come back hopefully top five in the country,” WVU G Erik Stevenson said last Friday.

Stevenson was the first piece to show WVU’s coaching staff attempted to fix what happened last year. Stevenson, who leads WVU in scoring with 14.0 points per game, has been the biggest vocal leader of the team. Something last year’s team didn’t really have. Once Stevenson committed back in April, so did his childhood friend Emmitt Matthews. Then came Joe Toussaint and Tre Mitchell. All four of the new transfer portal additions are leading the team in all phases of the ball.

Huggins recently admitted that he likes the transfer portal more than he thought he would. Of course, Huggins still got his Junior College additions in from Mohamed Wague, Jimmy Bell and Patrick Suemnick.

Mix the great portal additions with the JUCO additions and you have a recipe to have a different year from finishing last place in the Big 12 the previous year.

West Virginia has not received any love from any outsiders up to this point. Even as far for ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi to question what direction WVU’s program was going in.

“I wonder if we’re seeing a permanent decline at West Virginia. The Mountaineers tied for their worst Big 12 record of the Bob Huggins era, and there is no obvious rebound in sight,” Lunardi wrote in a conference preview earlier in the month. “WVU has never come to back-to-back losing seasons under Huggins. But it could happen, and there could be unpleasant whispering in Morgantown.”

In the first four games of the season, there’s nothing for WVU fans to complain about. The team has bought in, the offense is surprisingly shooting 50 percent and the frontcourt looks much better. The Mountaineers blew out Pitt on the road in just their second game together. Even with the buy games, WVU has yet to let the foot off the gas, cruising to three other wins. Last year’s squad would’ve limped away with the wins against the low majors.

Stevenson can speak for the whole team and say that they haven’t had a true challenge yet. How will West Virginia respond when they get punched in the mouth?

“You know we haven’t been punched in the mouth at all. We haven’t been knocked out. We’ve pretty much have been doing all of the hitting,” Stevenson said. “We’re going to play three really good opponents within the next week. Those teams are good and they’re going to go on runs. We’re going to have to sustain those runs and punch back on our own.”

West Virginia will have to take it one game at a time but if they continue to shoot well and use their depth as an advantage, they’ll have a chance to compete in the PK85 field. This will be WVU’s first chance to showcase their improved roster nationally.

“I think our guys are excited for it. It tells us where we are and what else we’ve got to improve on,” Huggins said.

West Virginia and Purdue will tipoff at 10 p.m. est. in the first round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament in Portland with ESPN2 taking the coverage for the game.

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Ethan Bock is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in journalism at WVU. Ethan has covered WVU men’s basketball, football and recruiting for the past two years. He is from Cincinnati, Ohio.

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