New York Minute

West Virginia enters its first Big East Tournament with a bye. That translates into favorite status and the potential for crowd hostility.

The third-seeded Mountaineers (20-9, 11-5 Big East) became Big East and NCAA darlings last year. That can change in a New York minute, and just might should an underdog like peaking Louisville, which plays Pitt to see who faces WVU, get hot.

"I think people still like our personality we have. They like our style. I don't think we have the kind of personality people turn on," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "They like the kids and how we play. But I certainly would not want to face a New York team. Then it would be a true road game."

The Mountaineers need not worry as much about that, as No. 7 Seton Hall and No. 10 Rutgers play in the first round. One will be eliminated, the other would need a win over No. 2 seed Villanova to face WVU in the semifinals. Home favorite St. John's is just that – at home, having not made the tournament.

What West Virginia might need to concern itself with is the potential for a letdown. It will have played just one game in eight days when it faces either Louisville or Pitt. While that does allow for additional rest, it could also cause rust in the early stages of Thursday's 9 p.m. game. But there's also the face no team has ever won the Big East Tournament playing four games in as many days. WVU advanced to the finals last season, losing to SU in the championship and playing four games in four days.

"It's not impossible to do," Patrick Beilein said of winning the title as a five-seed or lower. "But it's very difficult. It will be a real benefit. When you get into tournament play it is non-stop. I think it helps us."

Three-day layoffs were the norm in six of the last seven seasons – the same number of years WVU advanced to the Big East Tournament. The last time West Virginia had more than three days between its regular season finale' and the Big East postseason opener was 1998-99. The Mountaineers went 10-19 and lost its last four games. It dropped the final regular season game to Seton Hall on Feb. 25, then lost to Villanova in the opening round of the Big East Tournament March 3.

It had just three days off last year, playing on March 5 and 9, losing to Seton Hall, then beating Providence to start a streak of six wins in seven games.

"This time of year everybody is tired," Mike Gansey said. "Teams have fatigue. We should benefit from not playing until Thursday. Pitt or Louisville might be a step slower from playing Wednesday. I'm very excited to get a bye."

The Mountaineers will watch the Louisville-Pitt match-up, but not from the Garden. There are no tickets for players, and the coaches would like to have them in the hotel before the anticipated 11 p.m. finish for the contest, the latest in the opening round.

It's a lot of fun," said Kevin Pittsnogle, who is losing his voice a bit but is expected to be fine for the game. "There is less pressure, but we still want to win. Every game will be close. We have to execute down the stretch. I think we match up well with both, and we know what both are like."

WVU, which played Louisville and Pitt within the last 10 days, practiced hard Monday, and will break for an easy workout on Tuesday. It will shoot in Madison Square Garden before its first game, but will not have a full-scale workout. The Mountaineers shot well last year and this season against St. John's, perhaps snapping a history of bad outings in the arena.

"They have to scrap and claw and do everything they can to play for a bit in March," John Beilein said. "It's not one and done now, but it will be soon. We are going into the Big East like the NCAA: How long can we survive?"

WVU also worked against both the U of L 2-3 zone and Pitt's dogged man defense in Monday's practice in addition to many shooting drills and team practice as a unit.

Said Frank Young: "This is what college players dream of. It's when we start having fun."

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