When you have coached college basketball as long as West Virginia's Bob Huggins has, virtually every game comes against familiar coaches and teams. This is especially the case when one has as high of a profile as Huggins does, what with being the fourth winningest active coach.
Last season, the Mountaineers began their stay in the NCAA Tournament by defeating Arizona, who at the time was under the guidance of interim head coach Kevin O'Neill, one of Huggins's best friends in the business. Both O'Neill (Marquette) and Huggins (Cincinnati) coached in the now-defunct Great Midwest Conference.
On Friday, Huggins will again find himself opposite a good friend – Dayton's Brian Gregory – when West Virginia begins what it hopes will be another lengthy stay in the Big Dance.
"Brian's done a great job with them," Huggins said on Thursday. "You know, I think the one thing that really stands out is how hard they work. They are a terrific offensive rebounding team because they work so hard at it.
"I think Brian has done a great job of getting them all to buy in, and he's playing a lot of people," Huggins continued. "I think they've responded very well for them."
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The Flyers can go as deep as 10 or 12 players, which is certainly more than WVU's seven-to-eight-man rotation. By running so many players into the game, Gregory ultimately makes things a little bit tougher for his opponents from a scouting standpoint.
Obviously it's tough to prepare for so many different players. At the same time, it will be hard for Dayton to simulate WVU's length and athleticism.
"I don't think they can simulate our length anymore than we can simulate their aggressiveness or the way they sprint in transition," Huggins said. "I've maybe had one team that maybe you could (simulate everything) with. I think that team was probably the best in the country before Kenyon (Martin) went down because we had such good players all the way through.
"I don't think they can simulate us probably any better than we can simulate them."
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Ironically, Huggins was once recruited by Dayton during his standout playing career in the Ohio high school ranks.
"Dayton did recruit me out of high school and I have great respect for Coach Donaher," Huggins recalled.
Ultimately, he chose Ohio University, where he played for legendary OU head coach Jim Snyder before transferring to WVU, where he finished his career.
"Coach Snyder saw, I think, every single game I played as a senior in high school," said Huggins. "At that time, they were really good. They had just beaten, I believe, Ohio State, Purdue and Notre Dame in the previous two years and were probably as talented as any team in the State of Ohio. I thought they had a great chance to make a run."
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Going back to the coaching brotherhood angle, Huggins was asked about UConn head coach Jim Calhoun, who missed his team's opening-round win over UT-Chattanooga with dehydration. Calhoun is expected to stay in a Philadelphia hospital overnight, and his status for Saturday's second-round game against Texas A&M is uncertain.
"I feel bad for Jim, obviously," said Huggins. "They've had such a great year. You know, to go through our league and not lose a road game until the very last game of the year says a lot…This is, I think, a special team for him and it's a shame that he's not able to go out and coach them because I know how much he loves coaching."
Coaches, especially big-time names such as Huggins and Calhoun, tend to be viewed by many fans as larger-than-life figures. However when situations such as Calhoun's occur, all are reminded that coaches are still regular people.
"You know, I think you learn – and probably it took me having a heart attack to learn – but you know, you don't sweat the small stuff," Huggins said. "I don't the way that I used to. I mean, I don't get as caught up in things that aren't really all that important like sometimes we have a tendency to do because I think as coaches you want everything; you want everything right."
A perfect example of not sweating the small stuff is yesterday's travel bugaboo for West Virginia. Huggins and assistant coach Larry Harrison were on the road recruiting and came to Minneapolis separate from the team while the rest of the staff and players were delayed for most of the day at Bridgeport's Benedum Airport. The team had to wait on a second plane to arrive, and ended up not leaving the Mountain State until after midnight. They arrived in the Twin Cities in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Huggins explained how he would have handled the situation in the past.
"I'd have been ready to choke somebody," he said. "Literally choke somebody. It just shouldn't happen.
"But you know, you don't have any control over it. You learn that you don't have any control over it. And so our guys, we went them bowling and sent them to watch movies. They probably thought they had a big day, you know with free bowling.
"You just don't get as wrapped up in things that you can't control or things that don't matter the way you do I guess when you're younger."