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Old Connections Plentiful in WVU’s Non-Conference Schedule



Heather Lyke and Bob Huggins before game against West Virginia on December 9, 2017 -- DAVID HAGUE

Bob Huggins has a knack for reconnecting with old acquaintances when putting together a non-conference schedule, and the 2021-22 season will be no different for WVU. Released Thursday morning, WVU’s non-conference schedule for the upcoming college basketball season is littered with old rivals, former Huggins assistants and even an old Mountaineer point guard.

The 2021-22 season will open at the WVU Coliseum on Nov. 9 with a game against Oakland. Three days later, bitter rivals Pittsburgh will come to town for just the second Backyard Brawl in Morgantown since 2012.

“It’s been such a great game for so many years and it’s been such a great rivalry for so many years,” Huggins said after playing at Pitt in 2019. “The reality is, we don’t need them and they don’t need us, really. It’s not like either one of us can’t find other games, it’s not that. You can’t find meaningful games, like this is, for the fan base.”

West Virginia has won four straight games against the Panthers, including all three since the two left the Big East in 2013. Huggins has long been a supporter of the Backyard Brawl series, often advocating for extending it.

“I don’t know why we don’t play every sport,” Huggins said. “If we played baseball every year, we’d end up having a good baseball rivalry. They’d end up drawing more people here, we’d end up drawing more people there, what’s wrong with that? That’s probably why I’m not an AD.”

After playing Pitt, the Mountaineers will travel to South Carolina on Nov. 18 as one of eight teams playing in the 2021 Charleston Classic. That tournament field also includes Boise State, Clemson, Elon, Marquette, Ole Miss, St. Bonaventure and Temple. WVU will then play home games against Eastern Kentucky and Bellarmine on Nov. 26 and 30 to close out the first month of the season.

On Dec. 4 a familiar face will return to Morgantown when former WVU point guard Darris Nichols brings his Radford Highlanders to the Coliseum. For Nichols, Huggins’s first point guard at WVU, it will be the second season in a row he coaches a game in the coliseum from the visitors’ bench. After being an assistant coach at Florida for several seasons, Nichols was named the head coach at Radford earlier this spring.

“He was a coach on the floor,” Huggins said of Nichols when he was in town with the Gators last season. “His understanding of the game and how to play it, Darris was like a quarterback on our team. He got the ball where it was supposed to go when it was supposed to get there.”

Nichols was a four-year contributor for the Mountaineers from 2004-2008. In his first two seasons, Nichols averaged three points per game off the bench for then-WVU coach John Beilein. As a junior in 2006-07, he averaged 10.9 points and 4.6 assists per game as the Mountaineers’ starting point guard.

Following Radford, WVU will reconnect with another former Big East rival, hosting Connecticut for the Big East-Big Battle on Dec. 8. Former conference foes, WVU is just 6-16 all-time against the Huskies. It will be the two teams’ first meeting since 2014.

After playing Kent State on Dec. 12, WVU will play the only true road game on its non-conference schedule against UAB in Alabama. That game will feature Huggins coaching against his former assistant while at Cincinnati, Andy Kennedy. Kennedy coached under Huggins with the Bobcats for four seasons. The two faced off a couple of times while Kennedy was the head coach at Ole Miss, both WVU wins.

In a second straight game against a former assistant, WVU will host Youngstown State and head coach Jerrod Calhoun in the Coliseum on Dec. 22. Like Kennedy, Calhoun was an assistant under Huggins during his time at Cincinnati.

“He came to Cincinnati as a student assistant for me and was terrific,” Huggins said when WVU played at YSU in 2019. “When the assistant job at Walsh opened up I called and said ‘you’ve got to get this guy, he may be the next superstar to come out of Ohio as a coach’. Of course, he did a great job.”

WVU will close out its non-conference schedule against a yet-to-be-named SEC opponent in the Big/SEC Challenge on Jan. 29.

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