Time to get physical
MORGANTOWN - In the days leading up to West Virginia's Big East opener against Villanova Wednesday night, coach Bob Huggins would tell anyone willing to listen that his Mountaineers would not likely see much in the ensuing 18 games that they had not encountered somewhere along the line in the 12 that preceded it.
They had, after all, faced Mississippi State on the road, Kansas State in what amounted to a road game, a No. 6-ranked and unbeaten Baylor team on a neutral floor and an assortment of Miamis and Kent States and the like that had provided rather divergent looks.
"Let's face it,'' the West Virginia coach said, "This is not going to be any different than facing Kansas State.''
True, but here is what is different: Now there is game after game after game like that.
Take the very beginning of WVU's league schedule, for instance. On Wednesday night the Mountaineers got a career-high 34 points from Truck Bryant and used a late surge to beat Villanova 83-69 at the Coliseum in a game that was everything Big East games are known for - in other words, rough, physical play.
And after a mere 48 hours, the Mountaineers have to go on the road and do it all over again.
West Virginia (10-3, 1-0 Big East) faces Seton Hall (11-2, 0-1) in a 9 p.m. game today at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. The game will be televised by ESPN.
That, more than anything, is what the young Mountaineers have to get accustomed to. They have played Kansas State and then traveled home to face Miami less than 48 hours later. They have faced Missouri State and Baylor on back-to-back nights. But now they have to do that almost uninterrupted for the next two-plus months.
And they will have to do it with sore bodies and fatigue while playing in the most physical of conferences.
For guys like Bryant and Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli, that's nothing to get used to because they've been through it before. But no one else on the roster has experienced it, so it will take some getting used to.
"They were saying at halftime that the refs weren't calling anything,'' Bryant said of the freshmen who had just played their first 20 minutes of Big East basketball against Villanova Wednesday night. "I said, 'Hey, that's the Big East. Get used to it.' ''
Well, despite that opening-night win, the Mountaineers still have some more to learn. While Huggins was certainly pleased to open Big East play with a win over Villanova, there is still an attitude that has to be developed among the young players who haven't been through it before.
"We didn't respond very well to their physicality,'' he said. "They were more physical than we were.''
Tonight against Seton Hall, the Mountaineers are likely to see a team that is just as physical. The Pirates are led by 6-foot-8, 236-pound senior forward Herb Pope, who averages a double-double (19 points, 11.2 rebounds per game) and 6-6 sophomore forward Fuquan Edwin (13.2 points). The backcourt scoring comes from senior guard Jordan Theodore (15.6 points).
From the bench the Pirates can bring 6-11 British center Aaron Geramipoor and 6-5 Latvian freshman Haralds Karlis.
Seton Hall opened its Big East season in the toughest place possible Wednesday night, losing 75-49 at the Carrier Dome to No. 1 Syracuse. That snapped an eight-game winning streak in which the Pirates had beaten Wake Forest, Auburn and Dayton.
The Mountaineers also go into tonight's game limping a bit. Kilicli is still bothered by a hip injury and Jones suffered a gash over his eye in the win over Villanova. Freshman Pat Forsythe hasn't played in four games because of back spasms.
All in all, though, the Mountaineers are about to learn that those are the types of things they have to play through. They learned that early in the Villanova game when the Wildcats were more physical, and by the end of the night had begun to adapt.
"That's how the Big East is. It's rough,'' Bryant said. "So you have to play like that.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com.