Lopsided Brawl

Head coach John Beilein is well aware that Pitt has dominated the basketball version of the Backyard Brawl in recent years, but doesn't think it's a lack of preparation on the part of West Virginia that has led to the lopsided record.

"You can look at any rivalry over time and there will be a 4-5 year run where one team goes through a terrific group of kids. Pitt is in one of those right now," Beilein said. I don't think one team is more prepared than the other, or that West Virginia was unprepared. "One team went through a hellacious year and has had to pick itself up in the best league in the country. Pitt was down, but not that far, when Ben Howland took over. I don't think it means they are prepared any better, though."

The first team Beilein was referring to was West Virginia, which has had to fight back from the ugly 8-20 debacle of 2001-02. The Mountaineers have lost the last five games to the Panthers.

Despite the recent dominance displayed by the Panthers, the Burt, N.Y. native still believes that he can raise West Virginia's basketball fortunes to the upper echelons of the Big East.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I couldn't recruit the players to compete in this league," Beilein said forcefully. "Anyone we bring in right now could be the one guy that gets us baskets when we need baskets, the guy that makes the difference. I feel strongly we can do it.

"West Virginia is not an easy job in the Big East because of our location and a lot of things, but when we make the next step it will be an important one. We were ranked in the top 25 earlier this year, and tell me that would have happened 3 years ago. We didn't maintain it, but that doesn't stop the progress we are making. We are getting closer."

RIFLE REPORTS

Just as he doesn't believe in a preparation gap, Beilein also doesn't buy into the theory that his team has a mental block with their neighbors to the north.

"I don't know if it's mental as much as it is physical right now," Beilein admitted. "We have to be efficient with our game. As a result, our game plan has to be one that gives us the best chance to win. We can't pound it inside, so we have to shoot the ball well.

"We have to tweak our offense to take advantage of what we have right now," he continued. If we play small, we are 205 pounds at each forward. At Richmond, we never had a 205-pound forward. We had 225 pound forwards. Then, if we play big, we are very unathletic, and this is an athletic league."

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One good thing about being in the conference, according to the coach, is that it offers almost unlimited opportunities to gain national attention and improve RPI ratings – things that make the difference when it comes down to NCAA tournament selection time. Beilein's previous coaching jobs typically offered much fewer chances to get big RPI wins, and an NCAA bid usually came down to winning the league's conference tournament.

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Beilein also admitted that he wasn't full aware of the importance of the Pitt game until he saw it in person.

"I don't think I understood how the backyard brawl carries over into the basketball arena," he said. "The first year we were struggling just to stay in games, and I couldn't believe our student section would be there 1 ½ hour early. It was then that I realized this game was very important for a lot of people. Unfortunately, Pitt has had the advantage the last five games, but we are working to change that."


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