EVERY YEAR, it seems, WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins characterizes his team's upcoming schedule as the toughest in school history.You can count on it like the sun rising. Like the leaves falling. Like stories claiming this is the year the ACC rises in football.This season, the Mountaineers again have a rugged hoops schedule. In 2011-12, WVU had the No. 23 toughest, according to the final Sagarin computer rankings.West Virginia's jump to the Big 12 from the Big East won't help much - especially when one factors in the increased travel.
But Huggins has never shied from a tough schedule. He challenges his players.And this year he's challenged them to the point where I've been asked if the coach has overscheduled the 2012-13 team.It's an interesting question. Gone is Kevin Jones, who very well could have been named the Big East player of the year last season. There are no stars returning from last season's team. Huggins is mixing and matching transfers and holdovers from last season.Yet West Virginia opens the regular season at No. 24 Gonzaga. In an odd twist, it could again play the Zags 13 days later in the Old Spice Classic final.The Mountaineers face No. 5 Michigan in Brooklyn. (Yes, ex-WVU coach John Beilein versus Huggins. "I'm sure the people representing the Barclays Center felt that would make for attractive TV," Huggins said.)In that Old Spice Classic, WVU could face Vanderbilt or a very good Davidson team in the second round. The latter is said to have a better team than when Stephen Curry was there. Coach Bob McKillop has a formidable frontcourt of Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks.In the Classic final, the Mountaineers could face Oklahoma - meaning three games against the Sooners this season - or Clemson of the ACC.
Also, WVU will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., and play Purdue. If you've ever been to the Boilermakers' arena, you know that's a very tough place to steal one.Within Big 12 play, WVU will face No. 7 Kansas twice. It will face No. 18 Baylor twice. It will face No. 24 Texas twice.As it stands, the Mountaineers will play 26 percent of their schedule against preseason Top 25 USA Today coaches poll teams. (The Associated Press poll will be unveiled Friday.)WVU is scheduled to play eight - and maybe nine, depending on the Old Spice Classic - games against current Top 25 teams.
The kicker is the Mountaineers are also scheduled to play five additional games against teams that received at least one vote - Marshall, Kansas State and Oklahoma State - in the early poll.So, back to the question: Did Huggins overschedule this team?
"I might have," said the coach on Tuesday. "I don't think so. I hope not."Huggins believes the schedule's degree of difficulty will increase both when the AP poll comes out and the season wears on. He might be right.But my answer to the question is no; Huggins did not overschedule. When NCAA tournament at-large bids are passed out, teams are rewarded for winning against a tough schedule.In that light, this is a spot-on challenge for Huggins' team. We'll see if big man Aaric Murray is indeed a one-and-done type of player. If he is, he'll rise to this schedule. We'll see if Juwan Staten is all that. We'll see if Matt Humphrey can lead and if Jabarie Hinds and Deniz Kilicli have improved.
If the answer to all of the above is yes, this schedule should be perfect. And if WVU can steal that first one at Gonzaga and simply make the finals of that Old Spice Classic, the schedule sets up as well as can be expected.The WVU trip to Brooklyn to face Michigan is surrounded by the Marshall game here in Charleston and home games against Virginia Tech, Oakland, Radford and Eastern Kentucky. There's a road game at Duquesne thrown in there.If the Mountaineers have to play Oklahoma three times, well, the Sooners were picked to finish seventh - a spot below WVU - in the Big 12. As mentioned, Purdue is a tough place to play, but the Boilermakers are young. They are not only unranked in the USA Today poll, but without a single vote. (Of course, so too is WVU.) If you're going to play at Purdue, this isn't a bad season to do so.Vanderbilt was picked to finish 10th in the SEC. Clemson was picked to finish eighth in the ACC.Also, keep in mind that while WVU has much travel, it also has Huggins, who has been through the Big 12. He can give his team the lowdown, if not the feel of the new arenas.Oh yes, and each of those Big 12 teams also have to visit WVU's Coliseum. That's no picnic, especially if it's your first visit.So, yes, WVU's schedule is tough. But is it too tough for the Mountaineer basketball team?No.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.