Purdue squeaked into this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 24. West Virginia wedged its way into a spot near the bottom of the “also receiving votes” list.
But this could change dramatically — for one or both squads — after playing in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament that opened Wednesday in Portland, Ore. The winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between Purdue (3-0) and WVU (4-0) will likely face No. 2 Gonzaga in Friday’s semifinals.
And in the other bracket of this eight-team tournament? Oh, just some schools called Duke, Florida, Xavier and Oregon State.
“This is playing the who’s who of college basketball,” said Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins. “You look at the names there. I think everybody recognizes the names and who’s coaching ’em. You look at it as an opportunity — an opportunity to put yourself into pretty good standing nationally.”
Huggins, too, has some national standing at stake. With his next win, the 69-year-old Huggins will assume sole possession of third place on the Division I all-time wins list. At present, his 920 victories share third with Jim Calhoun. Only Mike Krzyzewski (1,202) and Jim Boeheim (1,001) have earned more.
The Mountaineers won their first four games by an average of 23.7 points. Erik Stevenson (14.0 ppg) leads a balanced offense that’s shooting 50.9 percent from the field. The Mountaineers are holding opponents to 37.1 percent shooting, but the latter number doesn’t mean much to Huggins.
“We’ve got to guard better,” Huggins said. “We really haven’t guarded very well. There’s some more things we’d like to get into the arsenal. This is a good opportunity to see how the things we’re trying to explore a little bit, how they work against quality people .”
Purdue hasn’t played since Nov. 15 when the Boilermakers held on to beat Marquette 75-70 in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Officially that moved Purdue’s record to 3-0, but head coach Matt Painter has been thinking of his group as 2-1.
“I’m kind of treating Marquette as a loss,” Painter said. “That’s what I told them in film (session). I know it sounds crazy, but if they make two more shots, you feel a lot different in the locker room after the game.
“So I still look at some of the things that we struggled at. I thought we still had some possessions out there where guys were shooting to get shots off. You’ve got to get your shots in rhythm. Guys would make a shot, then they’d take a bad one because they made one.”
Painter would appreciate it if his perimeter guys would find 7-foot-4 Zach Edey in the post more frequently. Edey averages 20.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, but he has been getting much of his production from his national-best 6.0 offensive boards per game.
“We’re really struggling in that area,” Painter said, referring to feeding the post. “They have to do a better job of delivering the ball when he gets open. It’s happening about eight to 10 times in each game (where they miss him).”
–Field Level Media