Elon is first of several tests for WVU men’s hoops at Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic

Gold and Blue Nation

Mountaineers hope to ride the Backyard Brawl wave to their first test away from home

WVU men’s basketball takes its first trip of the 2021-22 season as they begin competition in the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic against Elon on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2 at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C.

The Mountaineers are riding high after coasting past rival Pitt in the Backyard Brawl on Friday in front of full WVU Coliseum. That moved Bob Huggins’s squad to 2-0 on the season before it treks down to the Palmetto State for its first action outside of Morgantown.

Huggins has had a change of tone since his team’s October practices. Ahead of the season, the coach wasn’t confident in his team’s potential on defense — but two regular season games and 27 steals later,

“The progress that we’ve made from [the preseason scrimmage against] Dayton until now has been immense,” Huggins said. “I mean…it was hard to watch.”

West Virginia opens its three-games-in-four-days stretch against Elon on Thursday, with a second-round matchup against Ole Miss or Marquette slated for Friday, regardless of the first round result. As they move forward in the tournament, Huggins says he is going to utilize his team’s depth — both to give younger players crucial minutes, and to conserve energy for his main contributors, like guards Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil.

Giving his role players — especially the freshmen — some playing time is a prospect that Huggins is excited about.

“We’ve got some freshmen who are playing pretty well, we just haven’t had the opportunity really to get them much playing time,” Huggins said. “I think hopefully we can get those guys some playing time, kind of get them feeling a little bit more confident….We’ve got so many new guys, we need to play. We need the time.”

Two freshmen have particularly stuck out in the team’s rotation, forward Isaiah Cottrell and guard Kobe Johnson. Although it isn’t his first season with the team, Cottrell has been fully integrated into the starting lineup after missing most of his true freshman season with an injury — as he averages just 5.0 points and 2.5 boards per game, though, he has yet to really get going this year.

Johnson has played 21 minutes so far across both games, and added four points in 14 minutes against Pitt.

The Phoenix tip their tournament run off with a 2-1 record, losing its season opener at Florida before notching a pair of home wins. It is led by Mike Schrage, who was named head coach in 2019.

“They get on a roll, they really make a lot of shots,” Huggins said. “Defensively, they mix it up a little bit, they’re gonna play a little 1-3-1, they’re gonna play a little 2-3, they’re gonna play some man, so that’ll be good for us as well.”

Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2, with WVU’s second round matchup still to be determined.

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