By Bob Hertzel
MORGANTOWN — Big Monday comes to little Morgantown tonight.
It’s a classic showdown, if there is such a thing in regular-season basketball, a Villanova team that is trying to bounce back from an ugly defeat, its second of the year and one that is sure to do away with its No. 2 national ranking, against a West Virginia University team that is starting to look like Destiny’s Darlings, if any team coached by rough, tough Bob Huggins can be the darling of anything.
These were the two top preseason picks in the Big East, Villanova selected to win the conference, and neither team has disappointed, although in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, Villanova’s 103-90 loss at Georgetown is not the prettiest girl at the dance.
“My concern is that defensively, we were terrible to start the game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said after the game. “Offensively, we turned the ball over 16 times in the first half, and you can’t start a game like that.”
And it won’t get any easier in the Coliseum during a gold rush with a sold-out crowd that may not worry too much about threats from the administration about repercussions from another obscene performance after the embarrassment of the Pitt debacle.
Even before they worry about the crowd, the Wildcats and Wright have got something far more menacing to worry about and that is the huge shadow being cast by WVU’s Da’Sean Butler.
A year ago at this time Villanova came to Morgantown ranked No. 13 in the country, and brought everything with them but a game plan to stop Butler, who went off on a career high 43 points.
“Everyone has one team they play good against,” Butler said.
It was the third most points ever scored by a player in the Coliseum, Notre Dame’s Austin Carr having hit for 47 in 1971 and in that same year the Mountaineers’ Wil Robinson scoring 45 against Penn State.
Butler moved past Greg Jones (1,797) into fourth place in career scoring at West Virginia with 1,822 points. Butler needs 29 more to pass Wil Robinson (1,850) for third place in career scoring. Jerry West (2,309) and Hot Rod Hundley (2,180) are the school’s top two scorers.
There was no indication that Butler would go off against Villanova last year, coming off a Pitt game in which he went 2 for 12 from the floor, scoring just four points and fouling out after playing only 18 minutes.
He enters this game with a bit more momentum behind him, having devoured St. John’s for 33 points as the Mountaineers had to shake off a first-half upset bid by the Johnnies to win.
“This league is ridiculous it’s so good,” Huggins said after the game. “If you don’t come to play at St. John’s you lose. It’s so hard. It’s hard on them and the philosophy that it toughens you for the NCAA tournament, I hope that’s right.”
Even this Villanova game has Big East Tournament feel, at least for Huggins, who was snowed in with the team after Saturday’s game.
“It will be much like the Big East tournament,” he said. “We will be sitting in my room watching the Villanova tape trying to get ready to go play on Monday.”
Certainly, Huggins will have some kind of surprise for Villanova. With them sure to concentrate on stopping Butler, Huggins has a couple of options to change things up. It begins with Wellington Smith, who has suddenly emerged as the kind of player WVU had hoped he would be for four years.
Smith, who is mostly an inside type player, has emerged as a true 3-point threat, shooting better than 60 percent from the field and from 3-point range over the last five games. His 44.3 shooting percentage from 3 is in the league’s top 10.
Another option that would create tough matchups for Villanova on defense would be to use freshman Deniz Kilicli at center, the big man showing he is capable of dominating inside.
However, the matchup problem he creates is doubled by the defensive matchup problem he has against Villanova’s smaller, faster players, but it is an option for Huggins to explore.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.