West Liberty has other work to do before it comes to Shepherdstown to see the Rams on Monday night.
Shepherd has games at Pitt-Johnstown and later on Saturday at the Butcher Center against Alderson-Broaddus before trying to slow the No. 1-ranked Hilltoppers in the Butcher Center on Monday.
This area doesn’t get to witness West Liberty’s team-oriented and fundamentally sound quality very often. Certainly not again this season.
The Hilltoppers of Coach Jim Crutchfield win with an almost silent efficiency. They move through games with a withering pace fomented by a fullcourt pressure defense and unrelenting fast break offense. There seems to be little time for self-congratulations as the nine or 10 players Crutchfield uses ring up the points with three-pointers or slippery drives to the basket.
A typical West Liberty game is dyed with 25 long-range field goal attempts, at least 25 free throws by the Hilltoppers, and an end-to-end pace to the game that is only slowed by a turnover or personal foul.
West Liberty moves the ball and makes assist passes without being careless. There isn’t much halfcourt basketball.
If you want to see absolute quality basketball played at a pace dictated by few mistakes and plenty of scoring, then coming to see West Liberty on Monday will be worth your time.
There won’t be another team like it playing at Shepherd this season. And with the competitive team Shepherd has, the Hilltoppers will see a home team emotionally armed and full of effort and fight.
The current NCAA Division II ratings have West Liberty on top, the same top spot the Hilltoppers were perched on two seasons ago when they achieved an unbeaten regular season and won their way to the national tournament’s Elite Eight.
Being ranked ahead of such national NCAA celebrities as Bellarmine, Kentucky Wesleyan, Metro State, and Cal Poly Pomona means the Hilltoppers have been accepted as at least an equal to the best Division II teams in the nation.
In its 10 wins this season, the Hilltoppers have scored at least 100 points in eight of those games.
The record in WVIAC conference games is 4-0. Ohio Valley went down, 139-71. West Virginia Wesleyan fell, 94-56. West Virginia State was no match in a 119-59 loss. But Glenville kept it close in a 105-98 loss at West Liberty.
Six more Hilltopper wins were achieved against Urbana, Cedarville, Findlay, Point Park, Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, and Puerto Rico-Bayamon.
The remainder of the schedule is full of nothing but WVIAC teams.
In the first 10 games, West Liberty has averaged 116 points in winning them all, while its opponents have averaged 77 points a game.
Six players are averaging in double figures led by senior Alex Falk, who scores 20 a game. Cedric Harris, C.J. Hester, Seger Bonifant, Tim Hausfeld, and Chris Morrow are the other double-figure scorers.
Shawn Dyer, Bubby Goodwin, and Kenny Cockburn all average at least eight points a game.
None of West Liberty’s players is taller than 6-foot-6. When shown in a halfcourt offense, the Hilltoppers don’t often station players inside the foul line. They constantly look to drive into the lane. If nothing can be gotten with that ploy, they quickly throw it back outside to shooters waiting for three-point efforts.
Through 10 games, the Hilltoppers are making 55 percent of their field goal attempts and that incudes a 41 percent norm from three-point range. West Liberty outrebounds its rivals by 10 a game. There are 24 assists per game. And 147 steals from its defense.
Shepherd is 6-2 overall before going back to play on Thursday for the first time since a loss to Wheeling Jesuit on Dec. 19. After traveling to Pitt-Johnstown, the Rams are at home on Saturday against Alderson-Broaddus. And then comes the friendly quarrel with the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. On Monday. At the Butcher Center.