Forced from WVU Coliseum for the entire season by Environmental Protection Agency-mandated asbestos removal, West Virginia's men's basketball team traveled 2 1/2 hours west Tuesday to play its first "home" game of the season, a 72-54 victory over Wofford before 5,735 at Charleston (W. Va.) Civic Center.
Though the crowd was less than half the Civic Center's capacity, it still was larger than the 5,059 that turned out for last season's home opener against Alabama A&M in Morgantown.
Because of the asbestos removal and the lack of a large enough gym near Morgantown, the Mountaineers will be a touring show this season. Of their 14 remaining "home" games, seven will be in Charleston, six will be 1 1/2 hours north at Wheeling Civic Center and one--Saturday's game against Robert Morris--will be at Fairmont State College's 4,000-seat Feaster Center, about 30 minutes from Morgantown.
To allow the men's and women's teams to at least practice on campus, West Virginia's athletic department purchased a basketball floor and installed it in the middle of the school's indoor track. The women's team is playing its home games at Morgantown High School.
Meanwhile, Wofford's season is off to a rousing start despite Tuesday's loss to the Mountaineers. The second-smallest school playing Division I basketball--its enrollment is 1,100--Wofford traveled to Clemson last Sunday and beat the Tigers, 79-74. On the school's Web site, there is a poll asking whether the victory is "the greatest athletic moment in Wofford history."
There is an upset winner of this season's Ron "Fang" Mitchell Toughest Nonconference Schedule Award, named in honor of Mitchell and his Coppin State teams, who always play the nation's toughest nonconference schedule.
In somewhat of an upset, the winner is North Carolina, which buttressed its Atlantic Coast Conference games with December matchups against Southern California, Georgetown and Purdue in the Maui Invitational; Michigan State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge; the College of Charleston and then Princeton or Nevada-Las Vegas in the Food Lion MVP Classic in Charlotte; Cincinnati in Chicago as part of the Great Eight; Miami on the road; Indiana in East Rutherford, N.J.; and Louisville on the road. On Jan. 15, the Tar Heels will host UCLA.
Coppin State, which lost to Maryland-Baltimore County and Towson in the Battle of Baltimore last weekend and then at Iona on Tuesday, will not play another home game until Jan. 3. In the meantime, it will play George Mason, Connecticut, St. John's, South Carolina State, North Carolina A&T, Purdue, Auburn, Morgan State and Marquette.
At the other end of the scheduling spectrum is Louisiana State, which opened the season Saturday with a 112-37 victory over Grambling. On Monday, LSU defeated Southeastern Louisiana, 75-36. The Tigers play Oakland on Friday in the first round of the Hawaii Pacific Shootout and have December nonconference games--all but one at home, of course--against Alcorn State, Tennessee-Martin, Sam Houston, Centenary (Division I's smallest school), Nicholls State and Howard. Excluding Alcorn State's 23-7 record last season, those teams were a combined 72-144 last season.
Tar Heels' Scoring Forte
North Carolina Coach Bill Guthridge spent part of the preseason trying to downplay the impact freshman shooting guard Joseph Forte would have this season. But once the fourth-ranked Tar Heels opened their season on Monday in Hawaii, there was no way for Guthridge to hide any longer last season's All-Met Player of the Year from DeMatha High.
On Monday night, in an 82-65 victory over Southern California in the Maui Invitational, Forte scored 24 points, the most by a North Carolina freshman in his debut. He followed that with 17 points and eight rebounds in an 85-79 victory over Georgetown on Tuesday night. North Carolina defeated No. 22 Purdue last night, 90-75, in the tournament final. . . .
North Carolina State junior forward Kenny Inge partially tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the Wolfpack's 75-61 victory over Old Dominion Tuesday night; he will miss four to six weeks. . . .
St. Mary's of California's 7-foot-3, 345-pound center Brad "Big Continent" Millard is back. And after missing most of the past two seasons because of a broken left foot, he averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocked shots in the Gaels' first two games--losses to Colorado and Washington. Millard wears size-26 shoes.
Lobos' Lackluster Start
The first two days of the season could not have gotten much worse for New Mexico's new coach, Fran Fraschilla. First, his team lost to Dayton in the opening round of the CoSIDA Classic in Albuquerque. Then, after Samford upset St. John's in the tournament's other first-round game, New Mexico lost the consolation game to St. John's--which fired Fraschilla after the 1997-98 season.
Further magnifying those losses, New Mexico is one of the eight schools that left the Western Athletic Conference to form the Mountain West Conference. And as a new conference, the Mountain West--which includes Utah, Wyoming and Nevada-Las Vegas--does not have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament this season. That means its members must earn at-large bids. . . .
In one of the more interesting coaching matchups that will occur at any point this season, Jerry Tarkanian and Fresno State opened last Friday by defeating Lefty Driesell and Georgia State, 74-64. The victory gave Tarkanian, in his 29th Division I season, 710 for his career--six behind Driesell, who is in his 38th season. . . .
George Washington Coach Tom Penders tries again for his 500th career victory Saturday at Smith Center against South Florida.
Matchups to Watch
Looking ahead, the coming week's best matchup is No. 3 Michigan State at No. 4 North Carolina on Wednesday night as part of the nine-game, two-night ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which begins Tuesday with a slate that includes No. 16 Duke against No. 15 Illinois in Chicago and No. 23 Iowa against No. 24 Maryland in Baltimore.
The week's other top matchup comes Saturday, when No. 2 Auburn plays No. 9 Stanford in the John Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif.