Under The Gun

With shorter breaks between games than most teams have for the regular season, both conference and NCAA tournament games become tests of both the stamina of players and the ability of coaches to quickly turn around scouting reports on opponents.

Those factors begin to come into play this week, as the No. 10 WVU men's basketball team heads to New York City to begin the Big East Conference tournament.

As the No. 3 seed in the league tournament, the Mountaineers enjoy a pair of byes -- jumping all the way to the quarterfinals of the event before even stepping on the court at Madison Square Garden.

That gives coaches extra time to scout some already familiar opposition. Head coach Bob Huggins and company could face any one of three teams it has already played in its first game of the tournament, which comes Thursday at 9:00 p.m.

The most likely candidate is Louisville, the tournament's No. 6 seed and a recipient of a first round bye. The Cardinals will take on the winner of a Tuesday game between Cincinnati and Rutgers in the second round on Wednesday night.

West Virginia (24-6, 13-5) beat all three of those teams in the regular season, so there's already a certain familiarity and feel with what each potential opponent could bring to the table. But Huggins said his team will favor one of those squads a bit more when it comes to putting together scouting reports over the next few days.

"We'll probably spend a little more time on Louisville," he said. "But I think other teams can win. I wouldn't rule Cincinnati out. I think they're really talented."

Assuming the Mountaineers are able to win their quarterfinal game, they will have to turn around quickly -- both in terms of physical and mental game preparations -- for a Friday night semifinal game.

If seeds hold, WVU would take on arch-rival Pittsburgh in the semis. There shouldn't be much left to the imaginations of Huggins and his Panther counterpart Jamie Dixon if that comes to pass, as the squads met twice in the regular season as per usual in the basketball edition of the Backyard Brawl.

So perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that the third-year West Virginia coach said his team would have a normal game-day routine on Friday if it were to advance past the quarterfinals.

"We'll get them up for breakfast, watch film, go over scouting reports -- do all those things," Huggins said. "Then we'll let them rest, then go practice. Then we come back and they rest and have pre-game meal."

"We'll do what we always do on game day. We won't change our routine. We'll back it up a little bit, because we'll play at 9:00 or 9:30. They won't get to bed until 1:00 [in the morning], so we'll back it up a little bit. But it's all the same."

That practice the head coach mentioned on a game day is not to be misconstrued as some simple walk-through, with little physical work to be done. Instead, Huggins emphasized that players would be forced to sweat even in the hours before taking the floor for a big game.

"We don't do any low intensity," he said. "We cut back on time. We don't cut back on intensity. Our walk-throughs are pretty intense."

While some might think that would be too much for players to handle physically, Huggins said the extended timeouts that come with the NCAA Tournament games played on CBS help to make fatigue less of an issue.

"Every NCAA Tournament game, when it's on CBS, there's a long timeout," he said. "You think if I get Da' [forward Da'Sean Butler] out for two and a half minutes, he should be pretty fresh, right? You've got two and a half minute timeouts. You play four, then you get two and a half minutes to rest."

"It's not as good [as football]. You don't get a timeout after every play, and you can't put the guys that can't catch on defense."

And while the familiarity with opponents that comes with life in the Big East Conference ends after the league tournament this week, Huggins said he doesn't believe any team his squad will face could do anything drastically different from what other teams have tried in the first 30 games of the season.

"You would hope by this time of the year, unless somebody throws something at you that you haven't seen, that you could adapt to it," said the veteran head coach.

"Let's face the facts. It comes down to, primarily, they're either going to try to pound it inside on you or they're going to set a lot of ball screens. We've guarded ball screens all year and we've played people that are bigger than us all year."

And while West Virginia enters postseason play this year in the relatively unfamiliar position of being a favorite and not an underdog, Huggins said that, too, should be familiar to the Mountaineers after a regular season spent in the nation's top 10.

"I think they would tell you that, throughout the year, was different for them," he said. "They'd always been the hunter and never been the hunted. Everybody's going to bring their ‘A' game to you."

"But if we're going to keep this program where we'd all like to keep it, that's going to happen. In some instances, it probably helps you, because you handle the emotions a little better."


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