When one considers the fact that WVU head coach Bob Huggins has coached 859 games over 27 seasons at places such as Walsh College, Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia, it's pretty easy to jump to the conclusion that there isn't a whole lot on the college basketball circuit that the man hasn't already seen. By and large, you'd be right if you came to that conclusion. Even still, there might be a thing or two that – just by chance – the Huggy Bear has yet to see.
Take Wednesday night's game at Syracuse, for example. In those 859 career games, Huggins has faced off with Jim Boeheim's Orange just once, with the Mountaineers taking that meeting by a sizeable margin last January in Morgantown. He's never faced Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. In fact, aside from an opening weekend stay in Central New York as head coach at Cincinnati during the 1993 NCAA tournament, Huggins has never even been to the 28-year old facility.
"We played there in the first and second rounds in 1993, but never against Syracuse," Huggins revealed to a miffed group of reporters on Tuesday afternoon. "I'm undefeated in the Dome over Coppin State and New Mexico State."
With all due respect to the Eagles and Aggies, Wednesday's game will in all likelihood be a little bit tougher for Huggins and his team. Though the Orange have struggled over the past couple of weeks, SU is always tough at home. Add to that that Boeheim's troops have been off since last Wednesday's loss at Providence, and that the Orange are one of the better offensive teams in the conference. Huggins noted that the top seven players in Boeheim's rotation might collectively be the most talented group on any team in the loaded Big East.
"(SU point guard) Johnny Flynn is going to have a long career in the NBA," he said. "Paul Harris is a heck of a player, a heck of a college player. They have a lot of players. How many teams have guys like (Eric) Devendorf coming off the bench? I mean, he was their best player a couple of years ago. They're good. They are very, very tough to beat. Then again, it seems like I say that every week."
The Orange might have to settle for a tweaked rotation on Wednesday night against the Mountaineers. According to the Post-Standard, starting guard Andy Rautins will likely play against the Mountaineers, but the status of starting center Arinze Onuaku is less certain. Rautins suffered a severely sprained ankle during a loss to Louisville on January 25, which kept him out against Providence. Onuaku has been battling tendinitis in his knee over the past couple of weeks, and was limited against the Friars.
West Virginia checks in at No. 18 in the most recent RPI rankings, despite not being ranked in either major poll. A big reason for the RPI's high opinion of the Mountaineers is their strength of schedule, which will only get better as Big East play continues.
"Aside from the two games that we had to play for the Las Vegas Invitational (Longwood and Delaware State), the teams that we have played have RPIs that are pretty good," Huggins noted. "That makes your strength of schedule pretty good. We're going to play Louisville and Pitt (once more each). That certainly isn't going to hurt. We may have the toughest schedule in the country before it's all said and done. It might be the toughest strength of schedule, and it will definitely be in the top five."
West Virginia's strength of schedule is currently 12th, according to RealTimeRPI.com.
After weeks of speculation, it was formally announced on Monday that junior point guard Joe Mazzulla would miss the rest of the season due to the growth-plate fracture in his left shoulder. The Johnston, R.I. native will undergo surgery soon to fuse the bone together.
"There weren't any other options, really," Huggins admitted. "I mean, it's not healing the way that everybody had hoped it would heal. They have to fix it. It's not any different than a lot of other injuries. The difference is that this is just such a long rehab. We're talking about six to eight months. He wants to be healed up to where he can be ready to go for next season."
WVU Sports Communications officials said Mazzulla would not be available for comment until after his surgery. He will likely seek a medical redshirt for this season.