Vegas Comes To Morgantown

West Virginia and Longwood meet in the opening round of the Las Vegas Invitational on Thursday night.

When West Virginia tips off on Thursday night against Longwood in Morgantown, the Las Vegas Invitational will begin in earnest.

Come again?

You read it right the first time. Thursday night's game inside the WVU Coliseum is officially a part of the Las Vegas Invitational.

So, too, will a Tuesday night tilt in Charleston against Delaware State. Don't worry, though. Neither Morgantown or the Capital City will be overrun with lots of lights, washed up entertainment acts or showgirls anytime soon.

As preseason tournaments such as this have evolved over the past several years, organizers and teams have run into a slew of speed bumps when it comes to putting the best of the best on the court. The programs involved want games, preferably against competitive foes. The organizers, of course, want the most attractive matchups they can get for attendance and television purposes.

The more teams there are in the tournament, the more money there is to be made for everyone involved. But, for example, Team A isn't going to play an opening round game against another big team with no guarantee that they'll move on to the finals. Lose, and not only will you not move on, but you'll probably have to wait quite some time before you play another game.

With that in mind, event organizers essentially give their marquee teams opening-round guarantees against smaller, overmatched foes. Problem is, smaller schools aren't just going to hop on board to be opening-round fodder.

The organizers of the Vegas tournament understand that. When the event resumes next Friday and Saturday at the Orleans Arena in Sin City, West Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas State and Iowa will be the headliners. The smaller schools, such as Longwood and Delaware State, will be there too, playing games earlier in the day. In the opinion of West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, everybody comes out a winner.

"If you're Longwood, Oakland or Delaware State, you get to go to Vegas and play in Vegas," he explained. "They're guaranteed four games (in the tournament). The hard part was to get those teams to come in and play if there were six BCS schools. They didn't want to do that; they wanted a chance to win some games. This format gives those schools a chance to get some wins and it gives schools like us a chance to play good competition on a neutral floor."

West Virginia has played in other early-season events over the past several years. Last year, the Mountaineers took home third place in the Legends Classic. Huggins has said in the past that if his team is in an early-season tournament, they might as well be playing someplace warm. Certainly, Las Vegas fits that description. The fact that Huggins has had good past experiences with the event makes it an even better fit.

"It's a great tournament and it's a great field," he said. "We've played in it, this is the fifth or sixth time. Chris Spencer does a great job of running it. It's at a great venue now in the Orleans. When we first played in it, they used high school gyms. The venue is great I think.

"We're going to have fans there. Kentucky is going to have fans there. Kansas State will have fans there and Iowa will have a bunch of fans there. I think it's a great atmosphere, and the quality of competition is really good. I think in the last four or five years, their final four teams have been as good as anybodys."

*****

In Saturday's win over Elon, the Mountaineers scored 54 second-half points after sleepwalking at times in the first half. With a deeper and arguably more athletic team at his disposal than he had one year ago, Huggins hopes to see his team scoring in transition more often this year. The key to that, he says, is defense.

"We're going to get it off our defense," he said. "That's how people, unless you've got a great rebounder and outlet passer, get points.

"I like to watch people score, as long as it's not the other team," he continued. "I just don't want to watch the other team score."

*****

Huggins recently served as the honorary chairman of WVU's United Way fundraising campaign. The campaign, coordinated by the school's Center for Civic Engagement, was a rousing success, bringing in more than $267,000.

"Working together, we not only met the challenge; we exceeded it," Huggins said in a WVU release.

"Service and engagement are part of our identity, and I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome," campaign coordinator Brett White said. "Despite tough economic times, the WVU community once again reached deep into its pockets to help its neighbors in need."


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