VMI-West Virginia Preview

After watching West Virginia rely on its defense for a high-profile win, coach Bob Huggins knows the positive vibes from that victory could vanish quickly if his team can’t slow down high-scoring VMI.

The No. 21 Mountaineers – ranked for the first time in four seasons – will take on the Keydets in their return from Puerto Rico on Wednesday night in Charleston, W.Va.

West Virginia (5-0) continued its active defense by forcing 19 turnovers in a 78-68 win over then-No. 17 Connecticut in Sunday’s Tip-Off tournament championship. Tournament MVP Juwan Staten had a season-high 21 points, and Huggins also credited the play of two freshmen, Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr.

"I’ve got my kind of guys again," Huggins said. "I’ve got guys that are just going to keep swinging, you know? These two freshmen are special freshmen. You just don’t find freshmen that have the courage to take the shots that those guys take."

Those players have helped the Mountaineers force an average of 21.6 turnovers during their best start since winning their first 11 games in 2009-10.

"Coaches have us pumped up from the start of the season just letting us know that we’re a special team and that we really have a chance to do something special," Staten said.

West Virginia – ranked for the first time since March 14, 2011 – will next take on a VMI team that’s averaging 92.3 points after leading the NCAA with 88.3 per game in 2013-14. The Keydets (2-2) have taken 128 of their 281 shots from 3-point and made 42.2 percent of them.

Their leading scorer, QJ Peterson, by contrast has gotten most of his 22.5 points per game from inside the arc. The sophomore guard is 11 of 28 on 3-pointers and 20 of 40 from closer range.

Peterson had a season-high 27 points in a 110-93 loss to UNC-Wilmington on Saturday.

The Mountaineers are limiting opponents to shoot 28.6 percent from beyond the arc. They held UConn to a 3-for-17 performance (17.6 percent).

"(The win against Connecticut) won’t mean too much if we lay an egg and lose (to VMI)," Huggins said. "It’s a marathon, not a sprint. That’s what we have to get through to our guys. It’s a long way from being over.

"We’ve played five games so far. We’re going to play 31 regular-season games, four in the conference tournament and hopefully six in the NCAA tournament. It’s a long year. You can’t get too up or too down."

West Virginia is 43-5 all-time against VMI but the teams have played just twice since the 1968-69 season – both in the last four seasons. The Mountaineers won those matchups by a combined 41 points, and Staten had a team-best 18 points in a 94-69 rout in Morgantown on Nov. 28, 2012.