No. 15 W. Virginia, N. Iowa to meet in South Dakota

WVU Sports
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Making the right choices on the floor is important for any basketball team.

To succeed this year might take better choices off the floor than ever.

As No. 15 West Virginia prepares to open its season Wednesday against Northern Iowa in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D., coach Bob Huggins and his players are emphasizing the need for discipline across the board.

In a season that is likely to be defined by COVID-19 instead of thunder dunks and buzzer-beating 3-pointers, teams are going to have to be vigilant in every aspect of life.

“The national champion may not be the best team, but the team that manages these circumstances the best,” Huggins said. “If you really want to win, then you’re going to have to do a great job of management.”

“The virus, you never know when it can get you,” West Virginia junior forward Derek Culver said. “So if you can take the right precautions and stay one step ahead of getting sick and getting your teammates sick, it’s a domino effect. This COVID thing has surprised me; it’s a lot more serious than I thought it was.”

Coronavirus has affected college basketball greatly before it’s had a chance to tip off, and this tournament is an example. The Mountaineers were supposed to play Texas A&M, but the Aggies pulled out on Nov. 16, citing increased coronavirus rates in South Dakota, a pandemic hotspot.

Not that West Virginia is getting a break with a different opponent. The Panthers are one of the favorites to win the Missouri Valley Conference, sporting a seasoned cast, led by go-to scorer A.J. Green, a 6-4 junior guard who considered entering the NBA Draft but opted to stay in Cedar Falls.

Green averaged 19.7 points, three assists and three rebounds per game, winning the Valley’s Larry Bird Player of the Year. He’d also like to make up for one of his few clunkers last year, when he faced the Mountaineers in Cancun and made just 2 of 15 shots from the field, scoring only five points in a 60-55 loss.

“Us having that rematch from playing them last year and coming up short, I just know my team is ready and fired up to come out this year and compete,” senior guard Tywhon Pickford told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

Both teams are loaded with experience. Northern Iowa returns two other double-figure scorers in addition to Green, and Pickford was its sixth man last year when the Panthers went 25-6 and won the Valley regular-season title before a stunning upset in the MVC tournament to eighth-seeded Drake.

As for the Mountaineers, they welcome back four starters from a 21-10 team, including the 1-2 punch inside of Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe. The 6-9, 260-pound Tshiebwe led West Virginia in scoring and rebounding last year at 11.2 and 9.3, respectively, and the 6-10, 255-pound Culver wasn’t far behind at 10.4 and 8.6.

The duo was also a prime reason the Mountaineers outrebounded opponents by an average of 8.1 per game.

–Field Level Media

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