Marquette Purdue Basketball

Purdue center Zach Edey (15) shoots over Marquette forward Ben Gold (21) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. Purdue defeated Marquette 75-70.

MORGANTOWN — There will be no Thanksgiving Day dinner for the West Virginia University basketball team on Thursday.

They have work to do.

While its fans will be gobbling down gobblers, the Mountaineers will open play against Purdue in the Phil Knight Legacy in Portland, Oregon.

Perhaps they should call in the Phil “Night” Legacy, for this tournament named for the Nike founder will be a challenge to see for Mountaineers’ fans in the Eastern time zone.

The Purdue game is at 10 p.m., and if WVU overcomes the big obstacle in front of them in the person of 7-foot, 4-inch Zach Edey, they will probably face Gonzaga on Friday at either 9 p.m. or 11:30 p.m.

This is a big-time tournament and a big challenge for the 4-0 Mountaineers who are in search of defining just how good they are and teams like Gonzaga, Duke, Oregon State, Florida or Xavier will give Huggins and his team a lot of answers.

“We’ve excited for it. It kind of tells where we are, what we have to improve on. We’ve pretty much done it most years, just a different venue,” Huggins said.

WVU normally plays in a holiday tournament but usually it’s at a warm weather location like Mexico, the Bahamas, Myrtle Beach or Charleston, S.C., but this field of blue bloods certainly will keep the heat on the Mountaineers.

Three games in four days — playing Thursday, Friday and Sunday, deferring to college football on Saturday — will show WVU and the nation where the Mountaineers stand at present, what they need to improve upon and give them a sample of what Big 12 and NCAA Tournament play is like in March.

“That’s a long way away,” Huggins said. “It helps us because we’re playing quality people. It helps us because we’re playing quality teams. That’s an all-star coaching group out there. It’s not just good teams. They are really good coaches. Their teams will be prepared. I’m sure they’ve looked at a lot of film, as have we.”

It’s a challenge, yes, but Huggins notes one other aspect of a tournament like this.

“It’s kind of fun,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to see the things we’re trying to explore a little bit work against quality people.

“This is college basketball. You look at the names there and who’s coaching them and who played for them over the years. It’s an opportunity to put yourself in a pretty good standing nationally.

“All you can ask for is a chance. That’s all anyone can ask for. You make the most of it.”

Purdue is always a challenging opponent and with Edey it becomes a tall challenge this year.

“The thing you worry about is they got a guy 7-2, 7-4, whatever he is. We haven’t seen that.” Huggins said, noting that he towers six inches over Jimmy Bell Jr., WVU’s tallest player. “It’s different. He affects the game a lot of ways. He affects the ability to score the ball and he scores over people. I’ve watched him this year and it’s easy for him to score over people.

“He missed a shot the one game I saw and it came off the rim and he dunked it ... and he didn’t jump!

“He’s not just tall. He’s big, he’s strong. They have done a terrific job with him.”

Huggins believes his team, which ranks last in rebounding in the Big 12, has to improve there while, at the same time, it has not lived up to the defensive standard he’d like to see by the first of the year or sooner.

“We don’t guard the way our guys have guarded. (Devin) Ebanks didn’t come in thinking he would guard and that’s what got him in the league,” Huggins said.

So far it has been an eager, physical and unselfish team Huggins has fashioned out of holdovers, freshmen and transfers. Last time out, against Penn, transfer guard Erik Stevenson stepped forward with 21 points.

“They like each other. They really get along,” Huggins said. “Emmitt (Matthews Jr.) has been terrific. He’s been our rock when it comes to communicating with guys. He knows everybody. He’s been around a long time and he and Erik, of course, grew up together.

“They get along. We don’t have the issues where one guy is worrying that another guy is getting more shots than him. We don’t have one guy and another don’t like each other. That’s really valuable. There’s a lot of teams where there’s a lot of jealousy. Sometimes you just don’t like guys. I’ve had a couple of teams where I had guys that didn’t like each other.”

Follow @bhertzel on Twitter

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