Mountaineers Back In The Friendly Confines Of The WVU Coliseum
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Wednesday’s showdown between No. 14 West Virginia and No. 3 Kansas has a lot of implications both big and small.
For the Mountaineers, who are 18-5 overall this season and 6-4 in the Big 12, it’s a matter of protecting their perfect 12-0 home record and continuing to pad their resume in search of a high postseason seed.
For the Jayhawks (20-3/9-1), they are trying not to let No. 1 Baylor (22-1/11-0) pull too far ahead in the race for the Big 12 regular season crown. KU also is very much in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, so a win in Morgantown would help solidify that Selection Sunday desire.
Another story line Wednesday is the fact that a WVU victory will move its veteran coach, Bob Huggins, into a tie for sixth place with former North Carolina legend Dean Smith on the list of winningest Division I men’s basketball coaches of all time. Huggins currently has 878 wins, one behind Smith. Current North Carolina coach Roy Williams is in fifth place at the moment (881 wins) with Bob Knight (902), Jim Calhoun (907), Jim Boeheim (960) and Mike Krzyzewski (1,152) rounding out the top four.
Huggins isn’t worried about such things at the moment, though.
He’s looking small picture, not big.
“We’re just trying to figure out how to make shots,” said Huggins simply.
His team, which makes an average of 43.2 percent of its field goals this season, is 14-1 when it shoots 41 percent or better in a game and 4-4 when below that standard.
“We rush things inside for no reason. That’s a big part of our problem in not making shots in the interior,” Huggins said of his teams shooting issues. “I have no idea why we don’t make shots on the perimeter.”
One of WVU’s outside shooters, sophomore guard Sean McNeil, has been unavailable the past couple of games as he’s battled a case of the flu.
“He went a little bit yesterday, but he’s still weak,” Huggins explained of McNeil. “He didn’t eat much for three days, and he was just laying around. He may be able to go a little bit (against Kansas).”
McNeil was on the floor for WVU’s practice session on Tuesday.
The Jayhawks again come to the WVU Coliseum highly ranked, just as they have every season since West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012. Despite the fact that every one of those KU squads has been in the top 10, the Mountaineers hold a 5-2 advantage over Kansas in Morgantown. WVU may be 0-8 in Lawrence, but it has pulled off many stunners in the Coliseum. Even last year when the Mountaineers’ struggled through a horrific 15-21 campaign, they managed a 65-64 upset of the No. 7 Jayhawks at the WVU Coliseum.
Huggins has been West Virginia’s coach in all those 18 meetings, where the home-road difference is stark.
“I could give you a lot of reasons (for the difference), but I don’t want to spend any more money,” Huggins chuckled, no-so-cryptically alluding to a $10,000 fine he received from the Big 12 following some disparaging remarks he made about the referees after WVU’s 60-53 loss at Kansas earlier this season.
“We’re more comfortable here, I’m sure,” he continued. “Honestly, we were lucky a couple of times. We scored a layup to go up one, and then they missed an open layup that would have won the game (in 2015). I think it was last year where they missed two (potential game-winning) shots at the end, one being a guy who rushed a rebound shot and missed it.
“Overall, though, I think we’re more comfortable here and make more shots,” Huggins stated.
That home court comfort extends well beyond the WVU-KU series. West Virginia is 12-0 at home and 3-0 in neutral site games this year, but just 3-5 in true road games, including a shaky 1-4 against Big 12 foes.
Some of that can be attributed to a lot of parity in the league, but also the youth of the Mountaineers has to be factored in as well, said their coach.
“I think the honest answer is the more experience you have, the easier it is to win on the road. Us being the 300th youngest team in the country, as much as you don’t want to use that as an excuse, that’s reality,” Huggins noted.
“(Former Cincinnati All-American Nick) Van Exel was at our game in Oklahoma,” the WVU coach added. “I remember back when he upset the fans in Cincinnati, because he said we’d rather play on the road than at home. What he didn’t say at the time, which he came back and said later, was it’s more fun to play on the road and watch their people leave early, watch their people sit on their hands. ‘We personally get more enjoyment out of shutting their fans up and winning on the road than winning at home.’ I think that’s fair.”
Huggins is waiting for his current young Mountaineers to develop a similar attitude on the road.