CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You've heard of the circle of life.In regard to West Virginia University's athletic fortunes, that circle is beginning to resemble a basketball.It's somewhat amusing.When we last saw WVU's basketball team against real competition, the Mountaineers had been hammered in the NCAA tournament. I wrote then it was somewhat merciful for the team's fans. No more Truck Bryant going 1-on-4. No more finger drumming awaiting improvement from Jabari Hinds. No more teeth grinding when the ball went into Deniz Kilicli."Once again," I wrote, "it's football season in the Mountain State."Today, many are saying it's basketball season in West Virginia. And the basketball season will start for the Mountaineers against the team that ended their 2011-12 season: Gonzaga.Talk about your circles.WVU will hit Spokane, Wash., for a midnight regular-season opening affair with the Zags this Monday.The event is a made-for-TV game that will be replayed next season in Morgantown. Perhaps, though, it would have been better for the Mountaineers to play this one at home. WVU will be flying all over the southwest as a newbie member of the Big 12. This trip can't help.
"Might as well get used to it, huh?" said Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins.Guess so, but this figures to be a stern test for WVU. The last time the teams met, it was right up the road from Morgantown in Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center, and not much went right for West Virginia.Gonzaga went in determined to show it was as tough as any Big East team and drubbed WVU from start to finish, finally settling for a 77-52 victory."I just feel like they out-toughed us," Bryant said afterward.Huggins called his offense the "worst" and "inept."
"It was a microcosm of our season," said the coach that day.
Now, though, a new day is dawning for the Mountaineers. Bryant is gone. Huggins has infused his program with transfers. Gonzaga, meanwhile, lost center Robert Sacre to the NBA. (He's now a teammate of former Mountaineer Devin Ebanks, now with the Los Angeles Lakers.)WVU also is catching a break of sorts in that Zags junior forward Kelly Olynyk, who redshirted last season, will be suspended for the game. The bad news for the Mountaineers is another big man stepped in and won the hearts of Gonzaga fans in a 93-45 exhibition victory over Division II Northwest Nazarene University of Nampa, Idaho.Przemek Karnowski, a 7-foot-1, 305-pound native of Poland, scored 17 points and had eight rebounds. And the team returns veterans WVU fans might remember: senior forward Elias Harris and sophomore guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. (Yes, John Stockton's son David is back as well.)Bell, Pangos and junior center Sam Dower were first-team preseason All-West Coast Conference selections. The Zags have been picked to win the WCC.Huggins, however, seems to like his team as well. "We have a chance," said the coach.He said that on Thursday. He's said that all along.
"We've got to do better running our offense, rebounding the ball and taking care of the ball," he said. "But we've got a chance."It's almost time to see.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.