WVU still has room to grow

Moments after one of the biggest early-season wins his program has gotten in the last few seasons, Bob Huggins' mind immediately shifted to the future.

Sure, West Virginia had just beaten No. 17 UConn to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off - a win that would catch the attention of the college basketball world and propel the No. 21 Mountaineers back into the top 25 for the first time since March 2011 - but it's still a group that is very much a work in progress. It can't get too caught up in the fact that it won a game over the defending national champions.

"We play again on Wednesday (against VMI at the Charleston Civic Center) and this win won't mean too much if we lay an egg and lose," 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."

It was easy to be a little pessimistic about this group heading into the season. After losing a few key pieces to last year's team that looked like it was beginning to move in the right direction before spiraling down and landing in the NIT before being bounced by Georgetown in the first round, this was another West Virginia team that was entering the year with another handful of players who were new to this level of college basketball. But Huggins was positive, as were the returning members of the team and quickly it began to look more and more like this could be a team that had a chance to be pretty good.

That thought was confirmed Sunday night in San Juan, as the Mountaineers led from beginning to end and won in a matchup against the Huskies that made many watching nostalgic of the old Big East days. And there hasn't been a WVU team since the school left for the Big 12 that looks as much like a Big East team than this one does.

The Mountaineers are tough, they're mean and they'll get in your face to let you know when they're doing well. But most importantly, they have heart. This looks like a group that genuinely enjoys playing as a team, and when it plays good team basketball it can be a thing of beauty to see.

"This win feels good," said Juwan Staten last night after the Mountaineers won the tournament and the senior point guard was named MVP. "We have a brand new team and we have a lot of new faces. We had to come together pretty quick to do something like this. We feel we have a special team and this was our first big test."

This is a deep West Virginia team that is full of guys who love to defend, rebound and do all of the things Huggins loves his teams to do. You can see it in the way this team presses and gets easy buckets by using its defense to create offense.

“I’ve got my kind of players again. I’ve got guys that are just going to keep swinging," Huggins said.

And they believe in themselves and in one another. They know that if they can put egos aside and play together and do what they do well, this year has the possibility to be something that West Virginia hasn't gotten to experience in a while. They don't plan on being the first WVU team in more than a decade to miss the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season.

But they know that to do that, they have to move on from big wins like that the same way they would have to move on from tough losses. Since the 2010-11 season, WVU is just 2-6 in games following a win over a ranked opponent.

"Our coaches have had us pumped up since the start of the season, just letting us know that we are special and we really have a chance to do something special," Staten said. "We knew that this was our first chance to prove ourselves and to be seen by the world. We feel that we have a great team, we have a lot of confidence in ourselves and we just want to put this program back where it deserves to be."

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