Prep Underway For Quick WVU Turnaround In CBI
Upon learning West Virginia’s opponent in the College Basketball Invitational would be Grand Canyon University – a team the Mountaineers’ men’s basketball teams have never faced – assistant coach Ron Everhart and the basketball operations staff sprang quickly to work on Sunday evening.
“Ronnie was in with our film people last night to do the scout,” head coach Bob Huggins said late Monday morning as the Mountaineers began the preparations for a quick turnaround to face the Antelopes in the first round of the CBI. “Everyone else got started today.”
Participation in the event means even shorter prep time than usual. West Virginia been accustomed to not playing until Thursday or Friday following the Sunday selection announcements, but this year’s less-than-hoped-for results mean WVU will be playing just four days after they flew home from Kansas City. They will have the advantage of playing at home, unlike Grand Canyon, which will have to cover three time zones to get to the WVU Coliseum for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. match-up. The Antelopes hosted a first round CBI contest a year ago, only to lose to Mercer 78-73.
Huggins indicated that on a personal level, he would like to forget and move on from many of this season’s struggles, but that such a decision would not have been the best choice to make. Being in the position to make the initial request to play in the CBI, and supporting it to the WVU administration, speaks to where his loyalties lie.
“There’s a lot of me that would like to [forget and move on] , but you have to do what is best for program and best for your kids,” he noted. “It will be great experience for them. I just think we need to play. The more experience these guys get this year the better they will be next year. I think our team is playing well together. I think their confidence [is better] .”
Like the majority of his staff and players, Huggins believes game action is what is most needed at this point. The practice is important, but experiencing as many different situations as possible in the heat of a game, and learning how to deal with it, is at the top of his list.
“It’s more important to play the game,” he said in comparing the two. “They just don’t have that game experience. ”
Huggins isn’t a complete stranger to ex-NBA star Dan Majerle, who is in his sixth year as the head coach of the GCU program. Majerle has led Grand Canyon to four consecutive 20-win seasons, and has also guided the team in three CIT and now two CBI tournaments.
“I don’t know him, well, but we have met a few times,” Huggins noted. Majerle has overseen GCU’s move from NCAA’s Division II to Division I, which was completed prior to the 2017-18 season after a four-year transition period.
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Huggins is never a fan of detailing lessons learned from losses (“I don’t know why you have to lose in order to learn,” is a common refrain), so he went in a different direction when asked if any of his younger players learned from the game experience in Kansas City or the loss to Kansas.
“I think we just ran out of gas,” he said of the team’s semifinal defeat.
There is evidence to support that, as WVU appeared to hit a wall in terms of defensive movement and aggressiveness on the boards in the final 25 minutes of the game against the Jayhawks after outworking both Oklahoma and Texas Tech in wins on Wednesday and Thursday.
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Despite the word circulated through various sources that Sagaba Konate could potentially play as early as last Thursday’s Big 12 quarterfinal against Texas Tech, Huggins leaned away from the possibility that another week’s rest and rehabilitation could put him on the court in the CBI.
“At this point it’s more concentrating on getting him a redshirt,” he said.
Whether that points to a greater possibility of a Konate return to WVU next year is simply the next signpost to be reached in what has been a turning and twisting odyssey this season.