The Mountaineers plan to practice Monday and Tuesday in Morgantown before a shoot-around in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. That 45-minute session will be held in conjunction with a drill session in another gym the same day. WVU tips off Thursday in what Huggins expect to be a night game. Times will be announced late tonight or early Monday.
The push isn't anything different for seventh-seeded West Virginia (24-10), which will meet the winner of second-seed and ACC runner-up Duke and 15th-seeded Belmont, champion of the Atlantic Sun, in the second round with a win. Those victors advance to the Sweet 16 in Phoenix. Huggins took a firm stance after the field was revealed on Selection Sunday, saying that "if we are going to be a national program, as I think everybody wants to be, then sitting in here is a formality. And it was today. It was a matter of where we were going to be seeded and who we were going to play. You don't do it every other year or once every three to four years and expect to be a national program. I thought we'd be in the tournament. I didn't know what seed we would be."
Arizona (19-14, 8-10 and seventh in the Pac-10) has lost four of its last six to drop into the lower half of the West bracket. Led by guard Jerryd Bayless (20 points, four assists per game and a 40 percent mark from three-point range), the Wildcats are arguably the strongest 10 seed in a year in which the others are South Alabama, Davidson and St. Mary's. The Wildcats are coached by Kevin O‘Neill, who was named interim head coach when the legendary Lute Olsen took a leave of absence. O'Neill was an assistant at UA in the late 1980s before returning to the school in May of 2007 after NBA stints with Detroit, Toronto and Indiana. The time at the professional level has apparently affected O'Neill's style.
"I have played them two or three times," Huggins said. "I think he is playing a lot more NBA stuff now than he has been. One of the only coaches not to bring back a lot of NBA stuff from there was (Louisville's) Rick Pitino. He brought more of the college game. But I'd think we will see more three-out and two-in from them, some isolation stuff that we have not seen from many.
"It's a hard game, but they are all like that this time of year. They are a very talented team. Really, it's a two-game tournament. I think everyone who is successful looks at it like that. You have to see it as having to win two games. You go and win two games and move on and try to win two more and so on. And I think you expect to see more from everybody at this time. We have played 34 games. After 34 games, John Flowers should not be a freshman anymore. Guys like Wellington Smith that didn't play much before have played a lot now."
Of the 34 games played this season, WVU had 14 against eventual NCAA teams, including seven from the Big East – which was awarded eight bids, the most to any league. It's little wonder the first-year mentor both expected to be in, and said that this should happen each season if the program wishes to emerge. Huggins also noted that his young group certainly earned the bid, with late-season wins over then-No. 15 Connecticut, which gained a four-seed, and Pitt, which won the Big East Tournament title and was also seeded fourth. The Mountaineers defeated a then-No. 10 Marquette team early in the year that eventually gained a six-seed, while also beating up on non-conferences foes Winthrop and UMBC, which were allotted bids.
"I think it is the best conference in the country when you go from top to bottom," Huggins said of the Big East. "The teams, the coaches, the players. The scary thing is that it's such a young league. They didn't pass out many senior awards. That means a lot of players are coming back. … I am taking guys that deserve to go. It's great coaching here and it's great being home. But I don't feel any differently now than I did the other 15 times. It is a lot of work. It's why you work as hard as you work. It's why guys have done all they have done, to get in the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to play for a national championship."
Huggins did say the closeness of the games in Washington, D.C. and the fact that Arizona is forced to travel three time zones would not make much difference.
"It's a non-factor," he said. "It doesn't matter. (This tournament is) not a whole lot different. You have one-day preps, but we have had one-day preps before. I do think guys play harder and possessions mean more because of the finality of it."
It was also mentioned that the NCAA experience would be valuable for next season, when West Virginia returns the vast majority of its roster. Huggins didn't bristle, but did reiterate his career mantra: Win now, and fret about next season next year.
"I am not worried about that. We are worried about winning now," said Huggins, in his 16th NCAA Tournament. "First time we went to the NCAA Tournament at Cincinnati in 1992, everybody said it was great because we had guys coming back and it would be great experience. We went to the Final Four. We are not worried about what happens later or experience. Ever since I went to Cincinnati, I have never not expected to get in. (The question) is where are we going to go and who we are going to play."