Still Playing

Like his counterpart, and good friend, at Mississippi State, West Virginia head coach John Beilein accentuates the positives of still playing at this time of the year.

"We are so pleased to continue playing," said Beilein, reiterating the theme of a positive outlook on his team's three consecutive post-Big East tournament wins. "When we play Mississippi State on Tuesday, we will be one of eight teams still playing. That's a great accomplishment for a young team, and a step in the right direction if we want to continue our tradition of playing deep into March."

It goes without saying that Beilein and his coaches and players would rather be making their run in the NCAAs, but that has pretty much been put by the wayside as the Mountaineers ran off three consecutive home wins. However, Beilein did get the chance to answer that message board favorite query – would you rather go one-and-done in the NCAAs, or have a long stay in the NIT?

"Anytime you end the season, no matter how deep a run you make, you feel at a loss for what you might have done differently," said Beilein as he pondered the question. "The success we have had so far builds the belief that working together does pay off. These concepts we work so hard on, they do provide positive results. If you got a quick knockout [in the NCAAs], you might not get that through the whole team. You might think about things you could have done differently. There's a confidence factor involved."

While he didn't come right out and say so, it's clear that Beilein likes the success his team has enjoyed in the NIT, because it has allowed his team extra practice sessions, and also because it reinforces those lessons he works so hard to teach. Getting a team to buy in to his approach takes time, and every additional win, every measure of success, is like gold to him in that regard.

Beilein also thinks that the success his team is having, albeit in the NIT, should do nothing but help recruiting.

"I think everyone would agree going into this year with a young team, it would be difficult to get to the NCAA. But with recruiting now, players have to look at this team and see they have almost everyone back, and that they have a chance to continue winning at a very high level."

That high level, of course, is the NCAAs.


After watching some film, WVU's mentor was impressed with the Bulldogs.

"Their quickness, their length, their ability to score one-on-one," he said as he ticked off MSU's impressive attributes. "You can play terrific defense and they can still beat you. Playing in the SEC they are used to playing teams that are extremely athletic. They are a tough matchup for anyone, not just us.

"I have watched their sets and one complete game, but it's tough to figure a team that is similar. Just thinking quickly, maybe UMass in terms of their quickness. In the Big East, there are so many teams that are just like them. So quick, so athletic. Providence, UConn, that's the type of athleticism we are looking at. And probably Louisville a little bit."

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Both Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury and Beilein were late to their respective conference calls. Stansbury provided no explanation, but did good-naturedly gripe at his SID for having to do both a conference call and an presser later in the day. Beilein was made tardy by spring break traffic heading out of Morgantown, and graciously apologized for his 15-minute delay.

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Beilein and Stansbury have faced off three times while the former was at Richmond.

"In my last two years at Richmond, we played once at Starkville and once at Richmond, The away team won both games. Then played in Las Vegas at a neutral site and we lost," Beilein recalled. "He has become a good friend because of it. We don't talk a lot, but we are good friends off the court."

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As is typical for any coach Beilein downplays any suggested or perceived advantages. This time, it is the venue, Madison Square Garden, where WVU played just three weeks ago.

"I don't know if there is an advantage. I don't think there is one," Beilein said. "What it is, is a thrill – the fact that we have been there before. I don't think MSU has played there with these players, so we may be a shade more comfortable. Maybe in finding the locker rooms or something like that, but once the game starts, I don't think it makes any difference."

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