For the first time in eight years, the Hokies and the Mountaineers will face off on the hard court Saturday in Morgantown's WVU Coliseum. It will also be the first time in seven years that the teams have faced off in either football or men's basketball. So many people on both sides of the rivalry have been waiting for this moment for a long time. For the occasion, we'll be doing our second Q & A of the young season with Wesley Page of SB Nation's West Virginia Mountaineers blog, The Smoking Musket. In this Q & A session, we discuss the the rivalry, the Mountaineer's size and depth advantage and of course, couch burning. Wesley also made his prediction for tonight's game. So read ahead Hokie basketball fan, there's plenty for you here. You can also read my answers to his questions here.
During the Q & A I refer to myself as GC (GobblerCountry) and Wesley as TSM (The Smoking Musket). You can also find my answers to his questions here. Enjoy, and GO HOKIES!
GC: So the last time the Mountaineers and Hokies met up was 2005 (in football) and the last time the two teams met up on the hardwood was in 2004 in Seth Greenberg's first year as a coach at Virginia Tech. Have you missed us? Has the hate diminished given the time we've spent apart? Or is the wound of our breakup still fresh?
There is some debate among WVU fans about whether Pitt or Virginia Tech is a bigger rival. I'll always say Pitt, mostly because of history, proximity, and recent great games. But there is little doubt that the WVU-VT series was a fantastic grudge match as well. Even with Pitt and a budding rivalry with Louisville, though, we've always missed playing Tech, particularly in football. It's hard to believe it's been that long, but the hate has certainly not dissipated, at least on the gridiron. The hardwood series was less intense, but I'll still be interested to see how Saturday plays out. Regardless, I'd love to get you guys back on the football schedule, or at least meet in a bowl game or kickoff classic in Charlotte - that would sell out in about 0.3 seconds.GC: West Virginia has a decided height advantage down low going into this game with the ability to throw five guys 6'8" or taller at the Hokies, especially now that 6'10" sophomore Volodymyr Gerun has been cleared by the NCAA to play. Do you think he sees any action? And as for the other guys like Kilicli and Murray, how do you think they plan to attack the Hokies?
TSM: This probably isn't very helpful, but I'm not sure about any of that. At all. Gerun is an interesting study, and there hasn't been much said about him to lead me to believe he's going to step right in and see a bunch of minutes, especially with the way Murray has played the last couple games. I think Gerun's availability depends on how the game is going, what matchups we can exploit, and whether Murray and Kilicli can stay out of foul trouble. As for our plan to attack the Hokies, we're pretty much a jack of all trades, master of none at this point. We ran a lot against VMI, then packed it in and dumped the ball to Kilicli in the paint against Marshall. Having not seen the Hokies play at all (we're still in football mode, for the most part) I'm not sure your strengths and weaknesses, but I think Huggins tries to gameplan to whatever you all do well (as opposed to having confidence in our guys enough to try to impose our will). Give your admitted height disadvantage, I wouldn't be shocked to see a similar plan to what we used against Marshall and try to get the ball inside.
GC: The Mountaineers have gotten off to kind of a rocky start, especially considering their hoops pedigree over the last decade. What do you attribute this to, and is it fixable? Or has it already been fixed?
TSM: I hope it's due to our inexperience playing together. Only Kilicli has played more than one full season in the Old Gold and Blue, so even if we have talent (which I'm not always sure we do), the guys have to get used to each other. The other thing is we don't shoot very well, which means we have to do everything else better if we want to win. When we can't shoot and we're not doing a good job running the offense because we're not used to each other, things really bog down. I see some bright spots out there, but at this point we're not going to outclass anyone. We need to play great defense, show great effort in regard to loose balls, etc., and rebound well if we want to make the tournament this year. Huggins usually does a good job of coaching those types of things, so there is hope. It would also help for us to develop a go-to player. Maybe Murray or Staten becomes that guy, but we haven't seen it yet. We definitely have a long way to go.
GC: West Virginia is averaging just under 72 points per game, but throw out a blowout win against Marist and 96 points against run-and-gun VMI and we're talking about a much lower figure. How do you think the Mountaineers will cope with the Hokies' pace in this one. Will they try to slow it down, or will they try to play with them? Is there a certain score range they would like to keep it within? Say, a game in the 60's, 70's or 80's?
TSM: Since Huggins arrived in Morgantown, the magic number seems to be 70. As in, the first team to 70 wins. I liked that we tried to run with VMI a little bit, and I wouldn't be surprised to see us try to do the same thing against VT. Sometimes teams that like to run get bothered when someone else wants to run with them, so that may be the case here. Personally, though, I think a shootout cuts against WVU's chances. We don't score it very well, so whatever we can do to neutralize the Hokies' chances to score are going to benefit us.
GC: West Virginia also has a depth advantage over the Hokies, as 10 players play over 10 minutes per game. How much of an advantage do you think this gives the Mountaineers?
TSM: WVU's depth is like having a lot of depth in fantasy football - if you're giving time to a bunch of different guys, it probably means you don't have any studs who are going to carry you. That's WVU's problem, and I think it also contributes to some lack of continuity. I expect that number to be scaled down a bit as guys settle into roles and some earn more playing time. So I really don't see it as an advantage at all at this point.
GC: This one is a little out there, but stay with me. My freshman year of college I was stuck with a roommate who is a West Virginia fan. No big deal, we got along great and are still friends to this day. But we obviously always had a difference of opinion on which team to root for and no matter how well we got along, that black diamond was always there. When we discussed the two teams, the couch burning and battery/nickel-chucking always came up. He copped to the couch burning (even teaching me a game that went along with it), but claimed he had no idea about the pelting of players on the opposing sidelines and vehemently denied its existence. So I guess I'm looking for a little bit of an olive branch here between the two of us (or a score-settler). Does this practice officially exist, and if not did it used to exist (keep in mind, I have been to Mountaineer Field before)?
TSM: There have been a bunch of incidents at WVU games over the years, and I'm sure things have been thrown from time to time. I've never personally seen anything other than Pitt's assistant coach get hit with a quarter during a basketball timeout, though. And I'd be willing to venture that some things have been embellished a bit. Any physical violence or verbal abuse (outside good-natured ribbing) directed at anyone, particularly opposing fans, is unacceptable and embarrassing for WVU. Unfortunately, I think Pitt and Tech fans got the brunt of our bad behavior in the 90's and 2000's. That being said, I have been extremely proud of our fans' acceptance of opposing Big 12 fans this season. I saw many instances of folks reaching out to visitors and offering food, drink, and friendly chatter and heard from numerous visitors how Morgantown was their favorite road trip because they were treated so well. I'm not entirely confident Tech fans would get the same treatment, but it at least gives me hope. Oh, and the couch burning is something we're fairly proud of when it's done right.
GC: Okay, prediction time. Who do you have, by how much and why?
TSM: I've been thinking about this all day, and I'm going to preface it by letting you know that I never pick against my Mounties. Yes, things look bleak and Tech has been playing very well. But, I think they have to cool off at some point and I like how WVU has improved the last couple games. I also like that WVU is at home and in front of a packed house. Let's go with a 71-69 Mountaineer win on a missed Erick Green 3 at the buzzer.
Thanks again to Wesley for joining us for the Q & A. For all the news and coverage from a Mountaineer perspective, make sure to check out The Smoking Musket. You can also find my answers to his questions here. For all the Hokie stuff, don't move a muscle. YOU'RE ON IT here at Gobbler Country.