It's easy to utilize the angle of Huggins and UC, of an assumed friendship between WVU's coach and Cincinnati mentor Mick Cronin. The reality is that Huggins wants to win, and his approach and feelings about Wednesday's game are no different than that of any other contest.
"I talked to (former UC assistant and current Mississippi head coach) Andy Kennedy, and we're going to play Ole Miss next year," said Huggins, who went 399-127 in 16 seasons at Cincinnati. "We very well could play Kansas State next year in Las Vegas. Before I said I would go to Vegas I called Frank (Martin, KSU's head coach and a former Huggins assistant) and asked him. I think what you learn over the years that if you play people you like, as much as I detest losing, there is a little part of you that feels good for them. … (You can be) friends, but when the game starts you try to win."
Huggins noted that he has "always had a great connection to the city and I still have a bunch of very dear friends there." This past year, he helped with a charitable function at the Emanuel Center dribble-a-thon. The Center, located in a formerly German-based section of Cincinnati, is a Christian-based organization whose mission it is to "enhance the potential and dignity of members of the Over-the-Rhine community through Educational Development and Athletics, Family Services and Community Enrichment and Partnerships with related groups." The area was an early melting pot of immigrants, the poor, shop workers and owners and wealthy businessmen. The inner city neighborhood is trying to revitalize itself though both economic and social means.
Still, that doesn't detract from Huggins' desire to give Cincinnati its 12th loss in 21 games. West Virginia (15-5, 4-3 Big East) has dropped three of four games decided by eight or fewer points, losing to Georgetown, Tennessee and Oklahoma and beating Marshall. And while 9-11 Cincinnati won't provide the needed marquee win, the Bearcats have enough talent to both offer a stern test and grab an upset win that would damage NCAA chances.
"I think Mick has put his own wrinkles in," Huggins said. "There are certainly things that we didn't run. There zone offense is what my dad ran and that I ran at Cincinnati. The defense is a little different. They play a lot of guys, and he has done a good job getting the guys on the floor that are playing well that day."
Cincinnati has lost three of its last four, but did upset a top 20 Pitt team. UC has been cold or hot this season, knocking off Louisville on the road – albeit when the Cards were minus two starters – and Villanova, but losing at home to Belmont and Bowling Green. The sheer numbers that Cronin rotates in makes any viable scouting report in terms of on-court combinations largely irrelevant. Instead, West Virginia will break down the team by individual players and make necessary changes as the game plays out. Guard Deonta Vaughn, who averages 17.4 points and three rebounds per game, leads the Bearcats. He isn't a great distributor, but can score from anywhere on the floor. UC's forward-center combination of 6-6 John Williamson and 6-10 Adam Hyrcaniuk are hitting at clips of 9.6 and 8.4 points and 6.1 and 5.3 boards per game, respectively. Five other players see major time.
Note: Huggins also said that the coaching staff could not attempt to make "wholesale changes" in WVU's approach at the free throw line, where it has struggled to 67.4 percent shooting overall (291-432), including missing 28 of its last 51 – those coming against Marshall and Georgetown. The misses likely cost the Mountaineers an upset win against the then-No. 9 Hoyas in the 58-57 defeat.
"We are trying to get them to do just a couple things that will help them," Huggins said. "You can't go in and reconstruct somebody's shot because it's akin to a golf swing. You don't want to have somebody redo your swing the day before you play in the club championship. There are too many thoughts going through your head. Free throw shooting is the same. I think we are going to be fine."
West Virginia is shooting 463 percent from the floor, and several players have noted that the team possesses enough good shooters that foul shots should not continue to be a pressing issue. Some of it is simply practice, as forward Alex Ruoff has said, and some of it is likely mental approach.