What to watch for when WVU hoops faces UConn in an old Big East battle

WVU Basketball

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A rivalry of the old Big East days will be renewed Wednesday night at the Coliseum.

WVU hoops will host No. 15 Connecticut in the Big East-Big 12 Battle. The Mountaineers (7-1) are coming off a 67-51 win over Radford on Saturday, while the Huskies (8-1) were also victorious that day, defeating Grambling State 88-59.

Tip-off between the old conference foes is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Here are some of the biggest storylines heading into this contest:

A growing list of concerns for Huggins

In their toughest test yet, the Mountaineers may be without one of their starters. Head coach Bob Huggins said Sean McNeil is still day-to-day as he battles a lower back injury. He was sidelined for the win over Radford on Saturday.

The Huskies are also battling injuries ahead of the matchup. It’s likely they will again be without senior guard Tyrese Martin (wrist) and sophomore forward Adama Sanogo (abdominal strain). The starting duo makes up most of UConn’s scoring and rebounding, but Huggins still has concerns.

“I’m worried more about us than anything. We are struggling,” Huggins said Tuesday. “Trying to get us fixed first.”

But what’s his biggest concern?

“I have many,” Huggins said. “It’s hard to just put them in order.”

Turnovers, rebounding, missed shots, including free throws, and lack of energy were just a few he rattled off.

The Mountaineers are averaging 11.4 turnovers per game and 32.9 rebounds compared to 34.5 for their opponents. When it comes to shooting, it’s 45.3 percent from the floor, 30.2 percent from three and 64.5 percent from the charity stripe — but it’s that last one, and lack of energy, that really raises questions.

“You can’t blame it all on the portal. Can’t blame it all on the incoming guys,” Huggins said. “We have a core of guys who should be better and certainly should play a heck of a lot harder.”

Every player on the WVU bench saw at least four minutes of action vs. the Highlanders and ten of 14 logged points, led by Tax Sherman with 27. No other player on either team reached double figures.

In UConn’s most recent game, nine players saw more than 12 minutes each and all made it on the scoreboard.

UConn’s “superior athletes”

That’s how Huggins referred to the Huskies. In his eyes, this team is reminiscent of ones of years past.

“They just do a great job in transition, really rebound it,” Huggins said. “They are deep, so athletic, can score multiple ways. They have a lot of guys who can score and they really defend. I wish we were a little better at this time. We’ll get better, but I wish we were a little better. Would make it a better game.”

UConn is averaging 85.9 points per game and limiting opponents to an average of 62.6. The Huskies are shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 37.9 percent from beyond the arc. They also average 44.4 rebounds per contest.

With Sanaogo and Martin out, R.J. Cole and Tyler Polley are the only players available averaging double figures, and it’s Andre Jackson who enters as the top rebounder with 7.4 per contest.

“He’s really good,” Huggins said of Cole, who is averaging a team-high 16.3 points per game. “He can get them in offense, he can score and defend. He’s a really good rebounder for a 6’1″ guy. For me, from the outside looking in, he’s the guy who runs the show.”

WVU bigs continuing to grow in their roles

Redshirt freshman Isaiah Cottrell, fifth-year guys Pauly Paulicap and Dimon Carrigan and sophomore Seny N’diaye are making progress inside for the Mountaineers, but the head coach knows they all still have more to give. Paulicap was the second-leading scorer vs. Radford with 7 and had a team-high five boards.

“Pauly is undersized. He’s been really active and been without a question our best inside guy,” Huggins said of the 6’8″ DePaul transfer. “There isn’t any doubt about it. He’s our best guy in practice and our best guy in games, but he’s undersized.”

Huggins also said leading up to Saturday’s contest that N’diaye was making great progress, but despite a good week of practice, it didn’t show up when it counted.

“You saw the Radford game, he wasn’t very good and he knows he wasn’t,” Huggins said. “I think Seny’s got size and length, but doesn’t do you much good if you don’t use it.”

Ndiaye is listed at 6’10″ on the WVU roster along with Cottrell. Carrigan is 6’9″ and leads the team with 12 blocks.

Huggins was asked if this was a benchmark game for his bigs due to UConn’s aggressiveness on the boards. He said he thinks it is for those previously mentioned athletes due to their inexperience at this level, but not so much for fifth-year Gabe Osabuohien.

“I wouldn’t put Gabe in that category. He’s played a few years against people, the other guys haven’t,” Huggins said. “But who knows, Gabe doesn’t stay in the game long enough to find out.”

UConn at West Virginia game information

This contest tips off at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

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