Match-Ups, Musings and More As They Mountaineers Ready For Sweet 16
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – News, notes and injury updates as West Virginia prepares for top-seeded Villanova in the East Region semifinals on Friday in Boston.
First, head coach Bob Huggins updated the injury status of Wes Harris. The forward left the second round game against Marshall after a collision with MU’s Jannson Williams early on. Neither player returned, and both were taken to the locker room for observation and NCAA-regulated concussion protocol. Huggins said Harris “didn’t go today but we fully expect he will be ready to go” against Villanova on Friday.
Harris, a starter, is averaging 5.5 points in 20 minutes of play. Among the better defenders for the Mountaineers, the 6-foot-8, 200-pounder’s frame will be needed against the top seed in the East Bracket.
There was also a question as to the health of Sags Konate’s knee. Konate had the right knee wrapped and braced during the first and second round victories, and he didn’t see the floor over the final 11:26 versus Marshall after getting hit with a technical for again losing his cool. That brought a tongue lashing from Huggins and a lengthy lecture from assistant coach Larry Harrison, and the holdout was more because of Konate’s temperament than his knee.
Konate told us he “tweeked” the knee in practice the day before the second game, and that it was painful then but fine against Marshall. As it is, the knee appears OK and Konate is expected to fully go in practice and against Villanova.
In one of those California and NCAA Tournament quirks, the 9:50 p.m. eastern tip in San Diego – the last of all the round of 32 games – didn’t allow the contest to end until midnight on the east coast. That made it approximately 9 p.m. pacific time, and following postgame interviews and packing, the Mountaineers could not get to San Diego International, clear security and board and be off the tarmac by 11:30 p.m.
Why is that a sticking point? Well, check out our tweet from two days ago.
Due to noise restrictions that don't allow flights to leave San Diego international after 11:30 p.m., #WVU waited until this morning to leave. Only other option was to bus to LA last night.
— Blue Gold News (@BlueGoldNews) March 19, 2018
That meant the Mountaineers didn’t arrive home until later Monday. That problem was magnified by another nor’easter expected to hit Boston on late Wednesday and early Thursday. The NCAA advised its East Region teams to beat the incoming storm, and thus West Virginia departed Morgantown in the afternoon on Tuesday.
It gave the team less than 24 hours in Morgantown and that nor’easter – the fourth to hit Boston in less than a month – is expected to drop five to 10 inches on the city itself and more just to the west. The storm, dubbed the four’easter, has combined with another winter storm along the east coast to make traveling to Boston from Morgantown a potential nightmare by late Tuesday as the mountains and eastern seaboard takes a pounding.
“It’s been tough,” Huggins said. “Not getting back until 7:30 on Monday and then I am coming back last night and I get a call saying we have to leave today at 2:15 (today) and now it’s 3 p.m. (for departure). It’d be nice to be able to stay in town for another day. The early morning practice is tough with all they went through.”
WVU held that session at 8 a.m. after the long day of travel, and is already en route to the airport to fly to Boston.
“Either we are prepared because we do travel more than any team in the country, or we are going to be worn out,” Huggins said. “Hopefully we are not going to be worn out.”
Villanova leads the country in scoring and offensive efficiency (see more about that here), and has six players scoring in double figures. The Wildcats (32-4) have had excellent guard play during the Jay Wright era, and the same holds true this season with Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. What has changed a touch is that Wright is running more five-out looks as opposed to the four-out he was using when the two teams were meeting annually in the Big East.
“Jay has always had great success with guards,” Huggins said. “He recruits great guards. They have been kinda tagged as guard U, which helps. Jay does a great job recruiting and a great job coaching. He puts them in positions when they can be successful. Their spacing is terrific. There are a lot of people who have guys who can make shots but not bounce it or bounce it but not make shots. They can bounce it and make shots.”
Huggins and Wright have faced each other six times, with each coach winning three. West Virginia had a pair of memorable wins over the Wildcats, one in 2010 that jumpstarted the run to the Final Four when WVU beat the ‘Cats on the road in Philadelphia and another at home in which Da’Sean Butler hit for 43 points in 2009.
Huggins fully expected Butler to sit with an injured ankle – and told Wright such in honesty in the pregame – but the then-junior spent all the previous night in the training room and, despite a limp in warm-ups, played 38 minutes in the 93-72 victory.
“Yeah, he’s not going to play,” Wright joked with Huggins in the postgame handshake.
Huggins had more more quip of a quote about his relationship with Wright, a svelte, sharp dresser always decked out in a fashionable suit on the sidelines. Asked if he’d offered Wright a pullover, as he had many other coaches, Huggins shot back with with this:
“Actually I haven’t. I don’t have any smalls.”