By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Does doing most of your shooting in the new practice facility take away from a team’s shooting accuracy as the background and setting are different than you will face in a game?
Bob Huggins doesn’t think it does.
“No, I really don’t,” the West Virginia University coach said, armed with facts to back up his opinion.
“Louisville won the national championship, and they never practice in the KFC Yum! Center,” Huggins said. “Day of the game, that’s all.”
Research shows, however, that Louisville shot better outside the KFC Yum! Center, hitting 47.1 percent of its field goals to 42.9 percent at home. Louisville did shoot its 3-pointers better at home — 34.1 percent of its 3s compared to 32.6 percent.
What that shows certainly is open to debate, but Louisville’s entire NCAA run was played away from home against, one can assume, tougher overall opponents than the home schedule. Conversely, Louisville early on when playing weak opponents was not at its best and used a lot of reserves in blowouts at home.
Huggins presses his case.
“If you look, Marquette never practices in the Bradley Center. There’s a lot of teams who had great success, like Georgetown. If that’s the case, we should never play a road game. We should schedule them all at home,” Huggins said.
The coach believes home success is built far more on atmosphere than on shooting background.
“Let’s be honest. We were really good at home when we were putting 14,000 people in there. We beat Ohio State in there. We beat a lot of good teams in there, but we had people in the stands,” Huggins said. “When you have 14,000 cheering for you it’s an emotional deal.”
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West Virginia finds itself caught in a perplexing situation when it comes to scheduling.
As a member of the Big 12, it plays any number of difficult conference games, which begins with two, maybe three games against Kansas if you want to count the conference tournament.
With that in mind, and with the ultimate goal being to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament, how difficult a non-conference schedule do you create for yourself.
Gale Catlett, in his days as basketball coach, did not load up on difficult non-conference opponents, either while in the Big East or the Atlantic 10. For example, his 1998 non-conference schedule included East Carolina, Alabama A&M, Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, Rice, Dayton, Ohio, Robert Morris, No. 20 Georgia and Marshall.
Huggins has changed things since coming to WVU and now, with an inexperienced team to get ready for a tough season, he’s wondering if it was right to create a schedule that included Virginia Tech, Duquesne, Old Dominion, Wisconsin or St. Louis and then Missouri, Gonzaga, Marshall and Purdue in consecutive games.
“When I came back, everyone said we need to play a better non-conference schedule, our attendance is down in December because we don’t play a good non-conference schedule,” he explained. “The flip side of that is by not playing a great non-conference schedule you don’t have to be as prepared. You are probably going to win anyway.
“Sometimes, when you have a bunch of young guys and are trying to win early which we have to do for post-season considerations and seeding, you maybe go too fast trying to get everything in and done. There may be some merit to not playing so many hard games early.”
You don’t get much NCAA consideration for playing teams if you aren’t ready to beat them.
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Huggins isn’t ready to proclaim this year’s team as a contender in the Big 12, just as the league coaches did not, selecting WVU to finish seventh in the league, down a spot from where it was picked last season.
His problem is that he doesn’t have experienced big men to play inside.
“It’s hard with so many new guys inside,” he said. “If you look at when we’re really good it’s after guys have been here for a while. It’s hard when you have to break bad habits and create good habits.”
The Big 12 preseason poll was released Thursday, and Kansas and Oklahoma tied for the top spot in the 10-team league.
It marked the 12th time in Big 12 history that KU has been the preseason favorite, while the Cowboys are chosen for the third time.
The top returnees for KU will be sophomore Perry Ellis (5.8 ppg) and junior Naadir Tharpe (113 assists), who will be joined by a highly touted group of newcomers. Leading the incoming players will be freshman Andrew Wiggins, who was rated as the consensus No. 1 player in the nation coming out of Huntington Prep. The Jayhawks have won nine straight outright or shared Big 12 regular-season crowns.
Oklahoma State boasts the top two returning scorers in the conference, including last season’s Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Smart.
OSU has four starters back in 2013-14 and returns 95.4 percent of its points overall from a year ago. It is the first time since sharing the preseason top spot with Kansas in 2004-05 that the Cowboys have been selected to win the league.
Baylor and Iowa State were next in the predictions at third and fourth, while Kansas State and Oklahoma tied for fifth. The Bears have been chosen in the top four in five of the past six years, while ISU’s preseason ranking is its highest since 2000-01. West Virginia, Texas, Texas Tech and TCU round out the poll.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.