Missouri hosts West Virginia tonight

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri gets a shot at a team from its old conference.

And no, it’s not that blue and white team from across the border.

The Tigers (7-0) take on West Virginia (6-2), a team that replaced Missouri in the Big 12, at 6 p.m. today (ESPN2-TV) at Mizzou Arena as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

“We didn’t have anything to do with (selecting West Virginia as an opponent),” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said, before slyly shooting down any notion of playing Kansas. “I don’t think that’s going to happen, not in this series. Maybe in NCAA or somewhere down the road.”

So West Virginia it is, a Bob Huggins-coached squad in its second season in the Big 12 after moving over from the Big East.

“I think West Virginia will be very good in the Big 12. They’re much better than they were last year,” Haith said, alluding to the fact the Mountaineers went 13-19 overall and 6-12 in league play last season. “They’re so efficient offensively. I think coach will tell you this, they weren’t as good offensively as they are now.”

West Virginia ranks 45th in the country in offensive efficiency, scoring 111.4 points per 100 possessions. That matches Missouri’s mark of 111.4. So while the Mountaineers average 85.1 points per game and the Tigers average 80.6 ppg, the two offenses are equally efficient when you take the number of possessions and tempo into account.

A lot of that has to do with Dayton transfer Juwan Staten, a junior point guard who’s tied for fourth in the nation with 7.5 assists per game.

“Their point guard has one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the country,” Haith said. “He has 60 assists and nine turnovers. That tells you right there about how difficult they are in what they do offensively. It will be a tremendous challenge for us on Thursday, and I think we have to be ready.”

Staten adds 16.4 ppg, behind just sophomore guard Eron Harris’ 20.3 ppg for the team lead. Devin Williams adds 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds per contest. Remi Debo, a 6-foot-7 forward from France, comes off the bench to add 10.4 ppg while knocking down 49 percent of his 3-pointers.

“He’s added a little something different to this team,” Haith said of Huggins. “This team is very efficient offensively. They shoot 47 percent from 3. They stretch you, their 4 man can shoot. At times they put five guys out there that can shoot 3s. They’re a very difficult team to match up against.”

Huggins has enjoyed success against Missouri in three appearances. As the head coach at Kansas State during the 2006-07 season, his Wildcats defeated the Tigers twice. With West Virginia, his Mountaineers defeated Missouri 68-59 in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament on their way to a Final Four appearance.

Haith, however, picked up a win against Huggins and West Virginia when he coached at Miami, as the Hurricanes took a 79-76 decision in 2010.

“They’re always very competitive, very tough, very physical,” Haith said of Huggins-coached teams. “They play with a chip. You have to bring your lunch pail when you play against them.”

Huggins boasts 729 career wins during stops at Walsh, Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and now West Virginia in his 29th year of coaching. The mark ties him for 16th on the NCAA all-time victory list with Jerry Tarkanian and legendary Missouri coach Norm Stewart.

“You see him on the sidelines going crazy and getting fired up with his guys,” Missouri forward Ryan Rosburg said. “You know they’re going to come in and play hard, be physical and get after us.”

And now Huggins can pass Stewart on Norm Stewart Court with a win.

“That is ironic. 729 wins,” Haith said. “Pretty awesome.”

Missouri hopes to keep that from happening.

“It’s definitely like who throws the first punch in a sense,” Missouri guard Jabari Brown said. “We have to come out and let them know we’re going to match their physicality the whole way.”

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