Could WVU win streak equal that of 1958 team?
Beating defending national champion Connecticut in the championship game of the Puerto Rico tournament meant that West Virginia had gained a certain legitimacy. Earlier wins over Monmouth, Lafayette, George Mason and even Boston College weren’t much noticed by the basketball world outside Morgantown and Blacksville.
But Connecticut still has a quality team, even if it lost several noteworthy players from the team that defeated Kentucky in last season’s championship game.
The win over the Huskies gave the Mountaineers a 5-0 record that has since been extended with runaway wins over Virginia Military Institute and College of Charleston.
Has any other Bob Huggins-coached Mountaineer team had more wins to begin a season? In 2009-10 West Virginia opened the season with an 11-0 record.
The longest season-opening win streak was the 14-0 start to the 1957-58 season by the Fred Schaus-coached team that ended their glory-gathering run as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. That team had sophomore Jerry West, Lloyd Sharrar, Don Vincent, Joedy Gardner and Bob Smith as its starters. Those Mountaineers finally lost a mid-season game to Duke, but then reeled off another 13-game winning streak to end the regular season with only one loss.
Lee Patton’s 1945-46 team had a 13-0 beginning to the coach’s first season. Patton’s next team went 11-0 to begin the year.
Schaus had gone 8-0 at the outset of the 1956-57 season.
West Virginia’s deservedly heralded 1958-59 team had an 11-0 winning run in the middle of that long-remembered season and then ran off 11 straight wins before the tear-stained, one-point loss to California in the national championship game. West was a junior on that team and his fellow starters were Bob Clousson, Bob Smith, Bucky Bolyard and Willie Akers.
When West was a senior in the 1959-60 season the Mountaineers opened with 10 straight wins before dropping their first game.
Longtime coach Gale Catlett registered eight straight wins to begin the 1983-84 season. That was the longest win streak to begin any of Coach Catlett’s many seasons.
John Beilein was able to guide his Mountaineers to a 10-0 record at the beginning of the 2004-05 season and that team then accomplished a 12-game winning streak later on in that much-watched campaign.
How far can this West Virginia team go before some opponent solves its pressure defense and rotating player substitution system well enough to beat the now-ranked Mountaineers?
Last night at the Coliseum the Mountaineers faced LSU in the Big 12/SEC challenge. Should Huggins and crew have tamed the Bengal Tigers, they’ll next see Northern Kentucky and Marshall away from Morgantown. If successful, by the time West Virginia sees North Carolina State at Madison Square Garden in New York on December 20, the Mountaineers would carry a 10-0 record into that non-conference game.
Madison Square Garden was mostly a snake pit for WVU teams, even those coached by Schaus. They did win an NCAA tournament game there in the 1958-59 Golden Era season. And Huggins claimed a Big East tournament championship at that site.
Following the bout with the Wolfpack (which had a 5-0 record against its non-conference foes to begin the year) the Mountaineers return to Morgantown with a December 22 game against Wofford (South Carolina) and a December 30 match against Virginia Tech.
Wins all along the way would leave the Mountaineers with a 13-0 record to carry into the start of the Big 12 schedule. The first two conference games are both on the road — at TCU on January 3 and at Texas Tech on January 5.
West Virginia’s lively and tempo-setting full court pressure defense has given it the opponent-draining results it has wanted. Teams have been energy drained in the second halves of many games. Huggins has usually had 10 players get at least 10 minutes of playing time in WVU’s early-season successes.
Juwan Staten hasn’t been worn down and hasn’t been needed to save games with his all-round play. Jonathan Holton has been a disruptive force with his 6-foot-7 frame defending opponent ballhandlers trying to get passes inbounds against the Mountaineer pressure. However, the time will come when the now-withering pressure won’t exact many steals or turnovers and Staten has to come to the rescue.
Will a loss come after this Mountaineer team has set a school record for consecutive wins at the beginning of a season? It just might if nobody is injured along the way and the free throws keep dropping in.