By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It seems like guard Truck Bryant has been at West Virginia for the past decade or so, even though it’s only been the past four years, but either way he’s been around and he believes that he hasn’t really seen anything like the stretch of games that begins at 7 tonight when Akron invades the Coliseum.
“This might be the hardest three games other than the Big East that we’ve had since I’ve been here. It will be very interesting and will let us know where we’re at,” he said before Sunday’s practice.
West Virginia plays Akron, then goes on the road to Mississippi State and then on to Wichita to face Kansas State.
Akron comes into the Coliseum with a 3-2 record, the two losses to Valparaiso and Duquesne by a combined seven points. They are also the only team to beat a Mississippi State team that is 6-1 and owns victories over No. 18 Texas A&M and No. 16 Arizona.
Kansas State is unbeaten in three games without being tested but will have two more games under its belt before WVU gets out there on Dec. 8.
Interestingly, two of these three teams were coaching stops for West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, first at Akron for five years where he first began earning his reputation. His first year at Akron he was 12-14, then went 85-32 over the next four seasons, earning his way to Cincinnati.
The Kansas State stop was a brief one, coming after a year away from basketball following his run-in with then-University of Cincinnati president Nancy Zimpher, leading to his exit. In one year at K-State he went 23-12.
Akron, out of the Mid-America Conference, is the first team of the three to give the young Mountaineers a test. Until now, WVU has just been easing into the season, losing the only tough game it played, that to Kent State.
“Certain teams we’ve played had one player who was good or two players who were good,” Bryant noted. “The teams coming up, all five are good. That will be different for us, but we’re getting a lot better.”
Akron’s strength is in the front court, led by 7-footer Zeke Marshall.
“It very well could be the best front line we’ve faced this year,” Huggins said.
Marshall averages nine points and four rebounds a game but is a powerful shot blocker.
“I think he’s averaging about five blocks a game and is changing about 10 other shots. He’s certainly a factor,” Huggins said.
The strategy will be to go right at him, challenge him with Deniz Kilicli going to the hoop inside.
Asked if his players would have a better idea of who they are after this stretch of games, Huggins wasn’t so sure.
“You guys keep asking me questions I can’t answer. How do I know what they are thinking?” he said.
“We’re going to play guys who are more like the teams we are going to play the rest of the year. I will have a better idea, but I’m not sure they will. They still think they can do things they can’t.”
That being said, the Mountaineers have showed marked improvement since losing an exhibition game to Northern Kentucky and falling to Kent State, and the area with the most improvement is the defense.
“If one of us gets beat you know someone will be there now to help. Someone always has your back. Our off the ball defense has been so much better,” Bryant said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.