In pointing out how difficult the Big 12 Conference is during his Zoom media call on Friday morning, West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins summed it up, saying simply, “We don’t have off nights.”
In reality, there are off nights during league play, but WVU is about to have a lot fewer of them over the next week-plus.
No. 13 WVU (14-6 overall, 7-4 Big 12 Conference) will start a rugged stretch of three straight road games in the state of Texas with a trip to No. 12 Texas on Saturday. The game will tip at 3 p.m. and air on ABC.
The Longhorns (13-5, 7-4) own a 72-70 victory in Morgantown back on Jan. 9 on the strength of a last-second Andrew Jones 3-pointer.
Any game against Texas is tough, and that’s multiplied when the game is in Austin. But with games at TCU and No. 2 Baylor within six days and a fourth game back home against Kansas State next Saturday, the Longhorns are just the tip of iceberg.
“We’ve really tried to back off on practice time to a degree, and the intensity of practice, because we’re getting ready to go through something that I don’t think anyone else in America is going to go through,” Huggins said. “Nobody else is going to play three games in six days and bus in between. Not this time of year. Not playing this caliber of people night in and night out.”
Back to icebergs: A large portion of the country, including the state of Texas, was slammed with a winter storm over the past week, and travel conditions and power outages remain an issue in the Lone Star State as well.
“There’s a lot of issues,” Huggins said. “You’ve got situations with the plane, obviously, you’ve got situations with the hotels, in some cases I think you have situations with the arenas — they’ve pretty much got statewide issues with power, water, all kinds of issues.”
On the court, the Mountaineers will have plenty of issues over the next eight days as well. The last time out saw West Virginia fall to No. 9 Oklahoma 91-90 in double overtime in Morgantown. Senior guard Taz Sherman was back after missing an 82-71 victory at Texas Tech with a groin injury, but was limited, playing just 16 minutes.
Huggins said that Sherman has looked good in practice in recent days, but practice is where Huggins first spotted trouble in the days leading up to the contest against the Sooners, and with the intensity being muzzled a bit in preparation for the long road trip. With limited time and travel in between the next four games, practices are going to be an unreliable barometer.
The real question is, how do the Mountaineers completely reset and change game plans within just a day or two while traversing the state of Texas in a bus?
“We can’t,” Huggins said. “I think you take them one at a time. I think playing [the season-opening Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in] South Dakota will probably help us because that’s what you do there. You play the game, then you go back to the hotel and watch film and try to break things down and figure out what we can do to be successful and try to keep them from being as successful and then you go play the game.”
As for the Longhorns, Jones leads the way in scoring at 15.9 points per game, with fellow guards Courtney Ramey (13.2) and Matt Coleman III (12.7) just behind. Greg Brown rounds out the team’s double-figure scorers at 11.5 points per game.
As for what lies beyond the next four games, that’s still unclear for the Mountaineers. A 10-day window was built into the schedule between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the Big 12 Tournament, which starts on March 10. WVU has three postponed games that have yet to be set with makeup dates, all home games against Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor.
How many, if any, land on the schedule between Feb. 28 and March 9 remains to be seen, but there’s a likelihood that between the next eight days, the league’s make-up week, the Big 12 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, WVU is going to be fairly busy for the rest of the season.
“I think the wish and the expectation of the league is to play as many games as you can possibly play,” Huggins said. “I know you guys are smart enough to know that television plays a big part of this. It’s going to be a good bit dictated by what television dictates. It’s not in anybody’s best interest to play three games in six days, come on. Particularly, you’re playing different styles, you’re playing on their home court -- it’s a lot of things. But we’re the only ones doing it.
“We have a lot of things that a lot of other people don’t have to endure.”
Also on Friday, Huggins was named to the Werner Ladder Naismith’s Men’s Coach of the Year watch list by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. The list consists of 15 coaches, with Huggins being one of four from the Big 12 Conference, joining Baylor’s Scott Drew, Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger and Texas’ Shaka Smart.