Rankings and Travels

West Virginia faces a tough series of two-day turnarounds in the next week, but head coach John Beilein is looking forward to the challenge.

The Mountaineers had just Monday and Tuesday to prepare for Wednesday's Big East opener against Villanova, and then have a similar break before Saturday's home contest against surprising St. John's. WVU will then have just another meager two days to prepare for the annual grudge match against Marshall in Charleston. Beilein, in a bit of an understatement, called it an "interesting and difficult week".

Beilein has even more to worry about, at least from his perspective, in the form of WVU's first Top 25 ranking during his tenure. The Mountaineers jumped into the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls after their wins over George Washington and N.C. State, but that's not something the veteran mentor is necessarily jumping up and down about.

"I'm coach speaking for everybody, but if it were up to me I'd prefer to stay out of all those polls and then show up at the end," Beilein said after the lengthy trip home from Raleigh. "I didn't even mention the polls to the team today, and I probably won't in the future. I want our team to feel like they are the hunters. We're trying to hunt wins – on the road or at home. We want to keep the idea that West Virginia is a team that is going to be a tough out all the time. I think for the most part we have players that will continue to believe that.

"I didn't even envision getting in the Top 25 when I took the job. We were just trying to survive back then. We had a plan, and part of that is to get better every year. Now we have to get better in the Big East. If we do, it's another small step."

Of course, Beilein isn't going to start lobbying against his team. The fact that his team-oriented approach has finally garnered attention across the nation has to be pleasing. (A number of media members from across the country participated in a conference call with Beilein on Monday.) However, he won't let the polls determine whether or not his team is successful.

"I hope people like the direction we are going in, and if the Top 25 is another mark of approval, I'm happy they feel that way. But we need more than that for this coaching staff to feel like we are positioned for the future."


Beilein said he wasn't surprised that his team is 10-0, but it's not because he expected to be there. Rather, it's because he doesn't have expectations of certain records at all.

"I'm not good at picking records, so I refuse to do it. So I'm not surprised. I refuse to look past the first game. I look at practices as far as what we have to do, but not with games. 0-10 might have surprised me, but 5-5 might not have if we had some unexpected things, like injuries, come up. There's going to be a game where you go 0-20 from three or 5-20 from the free throw line, and that makes it difficult to win. You have to keep steady."

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Many people hold the view that Beilein's unorthodox offense and defense are major reasons for his success, but he downplays that perception.

"I don't know why more people don't use our system, but I don't think you can put the success on the system itself. We are lucky enough to have a number of players who fit in well. We have great kids who can shoot the ball, a tremendous shot blocker, and young men that believe in themselves and in each other."

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Beilein made an unconventional, but understandable, assessment about winning away from home.

"With the uniformity of officiating, it's a little easier to win on the road now, and a little tougher at home," he said. "You see the same guys you see at home, and they call they game the same way. That takes away from the home advantage somewhat."

Beilein also had a joking assessment of how WVU's games have been called to date.

"I think the officiating has been outstanding – we're undefeated," he joked.

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With WVU's long winning streak, a number of mentions have been made of Jerry West's teams of the late 1950s, which were the last Mountaineer squads to last this far into the season without a loss.

"I'm certainly not embarrassed to be compared to a Jerry West team," Beilein said. "I hear a great deal from people who became West Virginia fans during the Jerry West - Hot Rod Hundley - Rod Thorn era. I'm just glad we can make people remember those days and recall them a little. But remember, we're talking about a team that played for the national championship. We're a long way from that right now.

Beilein has been blessed with a number of good free throw shooting big men, such as former player Michael Meeks, who is still active in Europe. However, he probably never has had a tandem shooting better than 90% from the line this late in the season, as he has in D'or Fischer and Kevin Pittsnogle.

"He has been excellent," Beilein said of Fischer, who has drained 17 of his last 18 attempts, many in late game pressure situations. "It's a little easier to get [the ball] inbounds to him. He has a soft touch, and he was one of the options at the end of the N.C State game."

Beilein noted that either Fischer or Kevin Pittsnogle will likely shoot any technical free throws that come up.

"Pat has shaken his slump, but they are so red hot right now I think we will just let them go."

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Beilein believes that Mike Gansey's excellent start to the season was keyed to the European trip.

"Watching him last year and the intensity he brought, I was pretty confident he could play and contribute, but I didn't know about starting. When we went to Europe, he blew up as many plays as he finished. But he worked through it over there instead of over here, and was able to hit the ground running. "That was key about Mike's emergence."

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