As Bob Huggins closes on a coaching milestone in his first season at West Virginia, his alma mater is back in the Top 25 for the first time this season.
The 24th-ranked Mountaineers look to move their coach within one game of career win No. 600 as they face Radford on Wednesday night in their first true road game.
West Virginia (8-1) has thrived against a relatively easy schedule under Huggins, a Morgantown native and 1977 graduate of the school.
He returns home after guiding Kansas State to an NIT berth in 2006-07 in his only season there. After John Beilein left West Virginia to coach Michigan, Huggins took the job and has the team back in the polls after an 86-62 win over Maryland-Baltimore County on Saturday.
West Virginia has won six straight games since losing 74-72 to then-No. 23 Tennessee on Nov. 23 at the Legends Classic in New Jersey.
The Mountaineers were ranked four times last season when they went 27-9 and won the NIT championship. With four of the team’s top five scorers back, Huggins looks to guide West Virginia back to the NCAA tournament, where it reached the regional finals in 2005 and the regional semifinals in 2006.
Saturday’s victory was career No. 598 for Huggins, who is sixth among active coaches.
Earning his 599th shouldn’t be much of a challenge against Radford (4-8), which has lost two in a row. The Mountaineers, who average 86.7 points, allow just 57.2 points per contest. Their 29.4 scoring margin is the best in the nation.
“We’ve got to be able to do different things,” Huggins said. “We?re going to have to be able to change the game and you change the game defensively,”
Huggins, known for his aggressive defensive teams, has brought that style to Morgantown, where Mountaineers’ opponents are turning the ball over nearly 21 times per game.
Offensively, Joe Alexander had 20 points with eight rebounds, and Darris Nichols added 16 Saturday for West Virginia, which shot 30-for-60 versus UMBC and is shooting 55.6 percent in its last three games.
Alexander, who started all 36 games last season, averages a team-leading 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds. The 6-foot-8 junior is averaging 20.0 points in his last six games since posting 8.7 in his first three contests.
“Joe Alexander is going to have to play like an all-league guy if we’re going to win the (Big East),” Huggins told the team’s official Web site. “I think he understands that we can’t be giddy when he gets 20 and eight. Joe has got to get 20 and eight all of the time if we’re going to win in this league and win consistently this year.”
West Virginia looks to carry over its early success on its first road stretch. The Mountaineers, who were 3-6 on the road last season, play at Canisius on Saturday.
The Mountaineers look to improve to 3-0 versus Radford in the schools’ first meeting since West Virginia won 78-44 on Dec. 4, 2004.
The Highlanders are coming off an 85-74 defeat at James Madison on Monday. Guard Kenny Thomas had 20 points for Radford, which was outscored 53-37 in the second half and lost despite shooting 52.7 percent.
Thomas bounced back after scoring 10 points in a 110-51 loss at No. 5 Georgetown on Saturday. He’s averaging 19.2 points in his last four contests— almost six more than his 14.0 average.
Wednesday will mark the first time a Big East team will visit Radford. The Highlanders have lost their last five games to ranked opponents.