Men's basketball practice tips off on Friday evening at the WVU Coliseum, and expectations are running high after West Virginia's dash to the Elite Eight a year ago. And while excitement about the season is a good thing, WVU's coaches have to guard against unrealistic expectations and optimism run amok.

"I think the one thing right now is that we have to take one practice, one exhibition, one game at a time," assistant coach Matt Brown said one day before practice began. "Coach [John Beilein] never overlooks anybody. I think that's one of the reasons we were so good last year. It all stems from the way Coach carries himself and his demeanor. He doesn't get overly excited about wins or losses."

Of course, one of the main reasons for the great anticipation is the fact that West Virginia returns all but two of its top nine players from last year's 24-win season. That lengthy list doesn't just contribute to high expectations, however. The veteran group, five of which are seniors, shouldn't be fazed or overwhelmed by any of the preseason hype, and should be able to shepherd the new members of the team through any distractions.

Brown agrees with that assessment, and notes that Joe Herber, J.D. Collins, Pat Beilein, Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle shouldn't be surprised by anything they experience this winter. All but Gansey came to WVU as true freshmen and immediately either started or played major minutes for the Mountaineers, and have been through just about everything college basketball can throw at them.

"I think our kids are pretty seasoned now," understated Brown. "We have five seniors, four of which have been here for three years, and they know the grind of the season."

While most of West Virginia's rotation will be stable, there has been a shakeup on the coaching staff. With the departure of Jeff Neubauer, who took the head coaching job at Eastern Kentucky, some task reassignments were in order in the Mountaineer program. While the unassuming Brown is hesitant to draw attention to himself, it seems pretty clear that he will become the de facto lead assistant, much as Neubauer was a season ago.

"I think I'll do a little more with the offense now having been with Coach for eight years," Brown admitted, "but a lot of it will be by committee. I have a good idea of what we are trying to do and what we want to accomplish. I think I'll spend a lot of time this preseason trying to prepare our young guys for the offense, because it's a lot more difficult than what they ran in high school."

After a long summer of conditioning (for the players) and recruiting (by the coaches) both groups are ready to get on the floor.

"I think they are ready to put on the new practice gear, lace up the new Nikes and get out there," said Brown, turning a phrase as neatly as could be. "It can be a long preseason, with running track, and lifting weights and everything, but I think they are ready to go.

"I'm absolutely ready to go to," he continued with a smile. "We are ready for the season to start. Recruiting is terrific, but it can be a grind. I think these kids are ready. And that's the fun part -- going on the floor and coaching them and getting ready for the season."

Part of that preparation is making sure the team understand that one or two setbacks don't mean the season is over. West Virginia went through a rough stretch of games last season in which it dropped five consecutive contests, but in then end those wounds didn't prove fatal. In fact, Brown believes they ended up benefiting the club.

"In hindsight, looking back at last year, the struggles we had might have been a good thing. We lost ten games, lost to Marshall, lost six Big East games, but that ended up making us stronger. Sometimes adversity does that."


  • West Virginia will face Kent State for the third consecutive year in the one closed scrimmage allotted to each Division 1 school. No witnesses or media are allowed for the closed scrimmages.

  • WVU will face John Beilein's alma mater, Wheeling Jesuit, in an exhibition game on Monday, Nov. 7 before opening the season five days later at home against Louisiana-Monroe in the Guardians Classic.

  • Ever the realist, Brown notes that WVU was as close to not making the tournament at all as it was to making the Final Four.

    "That shows how competitive college basketball is," Brown said.

  • Brown will again coach the big men, while new coach Mike Maker works with the guards. WVU's veteran roster has eased Maker's transition, even to the point of helping the new coach learn drills and the routine of practice.

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