After West Virginia defeated Virginia 66-57 on Dec 3, the Mountaineers rolled through a number of weak, over-matched non-conference foes over the next four weeks. At times, it seemed as if West Virginia's players got bored of toying with opponents, and how could they not? The Mountaineers averaged a 32 point margin of victory over their last six contests. But now as West Virginia prepares for the opening of conference play it knows things are about to change and head coach Bob Huggins detailed what he expects to see, including a renewed sense of enthusiasm among his players and the West Virginia fan base.
"Familiarity is one (change)," Huggins said. "I think the other thing is that the players think it's more important. In their minds there's a lot more riding on it. (Oklahoma State) has sold the place out - 14,000. So I think by and large most places we go are going to be that way and there's so much more enthusiasm and now that football is over basketball has started in a lot of people's minds, including a couple of our players I think."
Huggins is spot on with those of those points and the match-up with Oklahoma State features a lot of familiar faces between both the staff and players. Brad Underwood, the Cowboys' new head coach, was an assistant under Huggins at Kansas State and also the coach that knocked WVU out of the first round of the NCAA tournament a year ago. Those two factoids add some intriguing story lines to the match-up and Huggins took some time to discuss the level of familiarity that he and Underwood have entering Friday's game and how the Cowboys are adjusting to what Underwood is asking of his players.
"Brad is very familiar with what we do and what we're trying to accomplish having been on the same staff," said Huggins. "(Getting players to buy in) is part of coaching and obviously Brad has done it very well. He did it pretty well at Stephen F. Austin too so I think it's part of coaching and I think everybody understands the success that Brad's had and they're coming off of a bad year so they're really excited and grasping on to the chance to get it turned around."
Of course it doesn't hurt that Underwood inherited what could be the Big 12's best player in Juwan Evans, a sophomore guard averaging 20.2 points and 4.6 assists per contest. Evans has led the Cowboys to an early 10-2 record and if the Mountaineers hope to make that record 10-3 they must find a way to slow Evans down. Huggins took some time to discuss the challenges that the talented guard will pose for the Mountaineers.
"He's really good," Huggins said. "He was really good a year ago before he got hurt. I thought he was one of the better guards in the league and right at the top of the best guards of the league a year ago. He's now got a year under his belt and he's matured more and I think Brad (Underwood) has done a great job with him but obviously the guy knows how to score. He doesn't have a lot of weaknesses. He can make threes obviously, he can pull up and make shots and he's terrific going to the basket."