Connecticut's Andre Drummond throws down a dunk against Rutgers Saturday. The Huskies host West Virginia tonight.
MORGANTOWN - Here's what makes Big East basketball so fun to watch on one hand, and so difficult to play on the other.West Virginia spent Saturday afternoon dispatching of No. 9 Georgetown, winning 74-62 at the Coliseum and snapping the Hoyas' 11-game winning streak.Not much more than 24 hours later, the Mountaineers were on a plane headed for Hartford, Conn. That's where tonight they face No. 8 Connecticut.True, the matchup has lost a bit of its luster with UConn's recent troubles.
The Huskies began defense of their national championship by starting out 12-1, but last week lost both ends of a New Jersey road trip, falling first to Seton Hall and then Saturday night at Rutgers.Still, that just goes to show how brutal this league really is. West Virginia made the same road trip and felt fortunate to escape 1-1."It's hard to enjoy anything,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said after Saturday's win against Georgetown. "The good and the bad thing about this league is that we only have one day to get ready for Connecticut.''West Virginia (12-4, 3-1 Big East) faces UConn (12-3, 2-2) in a 7 p.m. game at the XL Center in Hartford. The game isn't part of ESPN's Big Monday package because that doesn't tip off until a week from today, but it will be televised by ESPN2.
Fortunately for the Mountaineers, this kind of short turn-around isn't unfamiliar. Huggins scheduled a couple of these during the non-conference portion of the schedule just to prepare his team for what it would face. This will be the fourth time already this season WVU has played with only one day of preparation, and that doesn't even include back-to-back games once in a Las Vegas tournament."We know what to expect. We know how to get our bodies and our minds ready for these games that come so fast,'' said West Virginia forward Kevin Jones. "We've been through this before. We'll be ready.''In truth, West Virginia's quick turnaround and games against back-to-back Top 25 teams is not that unusual.In the 41/2 seasons since Huggins returned to his alma mater, the Mountaineers are fast approaching 50 games against ranked opponents. In fact, since the 2004-05 season that ended in the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight, West Virginia has averaged 11 games per season against ranked teams.
The Mountaineers have not fared too poorly, either, going 35-45 against Top 25 teams in that span, 20 of the wins since Huggins arrived."The thing about it is you have so many opportunities,'' said Huggins, who faced 90 ranked teams in 16 years at Cincinnati and has already faced 48 in 41/2 years at WVU. "In some leagues you may only have one opportunity, but in this league, you seemingly have an opportunity every night out. And some of the teams that aren't in the Top 25 probably should be.''Indeed, the Pirates have now beaten both WVU and UConn and are 14-2. Seton Hall is No. 3 in the RPI, but unranked in the polls.
West Virginia, too, is unranked but climbed to No. 14 in the RPI with its win over Georgetown and success against a schedule that is now ranked by the RPI formula as the fourth-toughest in the country.Tonight against Connecticut, the Mountaineers will face a team that is suddenly struggling to put things together. The Huskies had not played a brutal early schedule and got through it with only a neutral-court loss to Central Florida blemishing its start.But UConn struggled to win at South Florida in its Big East opener, and then lost the two straight to Seton Hall and Rutgers after beating St. John's at home.In its loss at Rutgers Saturday night, UConn turned the ball over 20 times.The Huskies are usually getting plenty of production from preseason All-American Jeremy Lamb (18.2 points), although he had just eight against RU, and from guard Shabazz Napier.But 6-foot-10 freshman big man Andre Drummond, while scoring and rebounding well, has had other issues. In the loss at Rutgers he had 10 points and 12 rebounds, but turned the ball over seven times.
The Huskies are also just getting coach Jim Calhoun back. Calhoun served a three-game suspension stemming from an NCAA investigation by sitting out the first three league games. He returned for the Rutgers contest.After tonight's game West Virginia does get a bit of a break, not playing again until a Saturday home rematch against Rutgers, which WVU beat 85-64 three days before the Scarlet Knights handed UConn a 67-60 loss.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org