Of all the changes made to the 2020-21 college basketball season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the one West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins disliked the most was the ban on preseason scrimmages and exhibitions.
Without a scrimmage or exhibition, teams were left to just practice against each other this offseason. Huggins said WVU’s players started to get passive after playing against each other all summer and fall. That did not seem to hurt the Mountaineers this week, however, as they won all three of their games in the Crossover Classic, defeating Western Kentucky Friday in the championship game.
“When you play against each other, and that’s all they’ve done since this summer, you kind of get a little passive and not as aggressive,” Huggins said. “Western Kentucky came out and was very aggressive so I didn’t think we met their aggression in the first half.”
WKU (2-1) held a 36-33 lead over No. 15 WVU (3-0) after the first half of play Friday, but the Mountaineers came back in the second half to win 70-64. Sophomore guard Miles ‘Deuce’ McBride led the team with 49 points over the three games. He said not having a scrimmage or exhibition made it hard to know who the team would play in the tournament.
“I think exhibitions games and scrimmages definitely help a ton with evaluating your own game and getting more comfortable in a game setting as a team,” McBride said. “Practicing against each other for four months can get real repetitive so I think coming out here and getting a fresh start helped a lot.”
“Playing the same players day in and day out for four months straight can take a toll on you,” junior big man Derek Culver added. “Once you really get to play against other opponents, but don’t get exhibition games in…You don’t really know what you’re going to get. I’m really proud of my teammates and how we handled ourselves.”
The Crossover Classic featured eight teams that all have pretty high expectations for 2020-21, despite replacing six of the original eight teams and then three more teams after that. VCU, WVU’s semifinal opponent, was added just two days before the event started after Wichita State withdrew due to positive COVIC tests.
“The people at this tournament did a great job of finding great competition, the matchups were great,” McBride said. “This was a great test for me and my teammates.”
The drawback to playing three good teams, however, was Huggins was not able to go too deep into his bench and play some of his younger players.
“We’re trying to get some guys in to see what they can do,” Huggins said. “We really like Isaiah [Cottrell], we need to get him in the game more but the games ended up being closer than what we would really like them to be. But we’ve got to get some of those guys in the game a little bit more so they can help us when we really need them to come in and play big minutes.”
West Virginia’s schedule does not get any easier moving forward. On Wednesday, the Mountaineers will play the top team in the nation, No. 1 Gonzaga, in the Jimmy V Classic in Indianapolis, a game that was added just a few days ago. Conference play will not be easy this season either, as five of the 10 Big 12 teams were ranked in the first AP Top-25 Poll.