MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Odds and ends and a few things I think I think while wondering why West Virginia couldn't have cleared its basketball schedule like this in one of those years when the football team was still playing:
That would be every year for the last 11, of course, during which fans - and, yes, sportswriters - had to delicately tiptoe around basketball games, bowl trips, Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day and try not to miss anything.And so now when the football team finally has nothing to do, neither does basketball, playing just two Sunday games in a 20-day stretch.Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
Bob Huggins' best line last week came after Gonzaga's 7-foot-1, 296-pound Przemek Karnowski went for 19 points and 13 rebounds against his Mountaineers and someone wanted to find out if Huggins knew Karnowski had that kind of All-America potential."He's not an All-American,'' Huggins said. "He's from Poland.'' At the end of West Virginia's laid-back, 20-day stretch with just two games, of course, comes the start of Big 12 play. And it's hard to complain about how the league schedule lines up.Yes, it starts with back-to-back road games in a span of three days, but they're against TCU and Texas Tech, two of the three Big 12 teams WVU beat on the road last year. And among WVU's first six conference games, only one is against the genuine upper crust of the league this season and that one, against Oklahoma State, is at home.That doesn't mean, of course, that the Mountaineers are going to start fast, only that they won't be overmatched early. And for a team that figures to be a lot better at the end than the beginning, that can't hurt. The other part of the Big 12 schedule that helps is what the league did with WVU's travel.There are nine league road games and five are Saturday contests that don't require a quick return in order to get to class the next day. Two of those Saturday games are at the start of two-game swings that will require a quick return after the second game, but both are 6 p.m. Central time tips, which allows for travel home. The other two road games are on Wednesdays late in the season at Iowa State and Oklahoma, only the latter being a 9 p.m. start.By contrast, last season five of the nine Big 12 road games were mid-week, 9 p.m. starts and none were bundled so that the team could stay on the road from one to the next.Those changes certainly don't give WVU any competitive advantage. It's still a lot easier for the other nine league teams to make their single trip to Morgantown with an advantageous time-zone difference than for the Mountaineers to make their seven trips (including two for a pair of games) to the Midwest. But considering the academic issues, as well as the simple wear and tear, it's a huge step in evening the playing field just a bit. The Big 12, by the way, is the early-season leader in conference RPI, ahead of the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big East, ACC and SEC. Its strength of schedule is No. 1, too, in great part because Kansas' SOS is No. 1 and Baylor's No. 2.West Virginia's SOS is just No. 102 right now (that's still fifth in the Big 12 and well within the top one-third in the country) because six of its 11 opponents to date are ranked No. 243 or worse in the RPI. Then again, 12 of its final 16 games are against teams currently ranked No. 42 or better (eight in the Top 15), so the schedule-strength numbers are going to improve.
In fact, according to Statsheet.com, which has WVU's strength of schedule at No. 110 right now, by season's end it will be No. 4.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.