Another weekend, another tough game against a Top 25 foe for West Virginia.
So, what else is new? Such is life in the deep and talented Big East Conference, where the Mountaineers are doing all they can to stay afloat, particularly during this current brutal stretch which has already included games against ranked foes such as Georgetown and Pitt, and now turns to a two-game road trip at talented Louisville and Syracuse.
The last time out, WVU had somewhat of a break against pesky St. John's on Wednesday night at the Coliseum. Though the Red Storm have definitely improved this season, they aren't yet on the level of the rest of the teams in this murderer's row that the Mountaineers are currently going through.
That doesn't mean that the 23-point win over St. John's did WVU no good.
"I thought we played pretty well defensively," said second-year head coach Bob Huggins. "I thought we took them out of some of the things they wanted to do and got out and got some easy baskets in transition, which is going to be a key for us."
Doing any and all of those things on Saturday in Freedom Hall is a must if the Mountaineers hope to keep up with Rick Pitino's Cardinals. After a shaky start to the non-conference season that included a loss to Western Kentucky, Louisville has taken flight in the Big East portion of the schedule. The Cards join Marquette as one of the last two undefeated teams in league play, and hope to remain unblemished after Saturday's noon tip.
Like that of so many other teams in the Big East, U of L's roster is loaded with players who have been through the rigors of several Big East seasons. Senior Terence Williams has the size of an NBA small forward but the floor vision of a point guard. Junior Earl Clark is finally playing at a high level on a consistent basis. Guards Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee might not get as much pub as Williams or Clark, but both are quietly having productive seasons for Pitino's team. On top of all that, freshmen big men Terrence Jennings and Samardo Samuels have been steady as well.
"They're good," Huggins said of the Cardinals, a team he faced regularly in Conference USA back in his time at Cincinnati. "I think they're the deepest team in the league and Rick does a great job of playing those guys a lot. They're comfortable coming in the game. Everybody knows their roles. Rick does as good a job as anybody in the game as making sure guys know what their roles are and what they need to do."
It goes without saying that the experienced Cardinals have the advantage on paper over the young Mountaineers. Even still, don't expect WVU to simply go through the motions once it takes the court at Freedom Hall. Nearly every team it has faced this season is bigger and more experienced that West Virginia, but that hasn't stopped the Mountaineers from putting themselves in a position for another NCAA tournament bid.
Lumped in the middle of a thick Big East pack, WVU is looking to make up some ground in the league standings in hopes of getting a decent seed for the upcoming conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. That, along with the fact that U of L flat out embarrassed West Virginia in last year's meeting, is more than enough reason for motivation.
"Who's not going to get motivated to play the teams in our league? Our guys get excited about playing the caliber of players that they play night in and night out," Huggins said. "Everyone realizes that if you lose a game in this league it's a two-game swing because the teams around you are probably going to win."
Though any and every win in the league is huge, there's no debating that a Mountaineer victory at Louisville would be the best yet for Huggins and company. As is always the case, however, that's easier said than done.