"They have opened the floor more without Franics, but it's hard to believe they are playing better now without him. They have kids that are bright enought that they can lose someone like him and make the adjustments they have. I, like many of the coaches in the league, have admiration for what they have done."
Beilein doesn't think that the Irish are playing a great deal differently without Francis, who was averaging 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game before being felled by a back injury. Or, at least, that's what he's saying to the media. "There's not a great deal of our scouting report that we have to throw out," said Beilein. Francis is a good player, but the other players, like Chris Thomas and Tom Timmermans and Jordan Cornette and Torrian Jones and Chris Quinn, have shown are not a one dimensional team."
He knows, however, that the Mountaineers must improve on their first effort if they are to avoid another one-night stay in the Big Apple. "We didn't come out very emotionally charged up," Beilein said of WVU's first game against the Irish on January 7. "That disappointed me the most. We didn't go through the motions, but we didn't have the emotional spirit you need to beat a Big East team."
Beilein noted that the shortening of his bench is the biggest change in his team since the first matchup with the Irish.
"We were playing our freshmen a lot more than we are right now," the second-year coach explained. "I don't know if that's good or bad right now. I would like to get our young guys more experience, but it hasn't worked out."
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West Virginia has gotten mixed results from playing Kevin Pittsnogle and D'or Fischer together, and conitnues to work to identify the best games and situations to get the two big men on the court at the same time. "Sometimes it hasn't helped us a bit, and sometimes it has won games for us," Beilein observed.
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Beilein was also given another item to worry about when the fact that the Irish (16-11, 9-7) are still playing for a possible NCAA berth came up. "I never thought of it that way, but that's all I need right now," Beilein said with a wry laugh. "Look at the wins they have had, while losing a top player." (The Irish are 6-2 over their last eight games, including wins over UCLA, Syracuse, Seton Hall and Connecticut.)
"I do think we are all playing for something, whether it's a better seeding or the NIT," Beilein continued. "There's also so much pride about wanting to advance in the Big East tournament. I know every win we can get in the tourney would be big."