The Times West Virginian

February 8, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - WVU-Nova no ordinary regular season game

By Bob Hertzel

MORGANTOWN — On Saturday, Bob Huggins had some bad news for his West Virginia basketball team after it survived a scare at St. John’s.

Morgantown was snowed in and therefore his basketball team was snowed out of Morgantown.

Oh, heck.

Darn.

No, better make that double darn.

This team made up of five starters from the New York City area would have to spend a Saturday night in the city.

Geez, they began thinking, hope we can find something to do here.

Tee, hee.

Huggins also had offered a word of caution.

It came in the form of the West Virginia schedule. See, the Mountaineers have been looking to be big time for a while and, as Huggins has pointed out, sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit to do that.

For example, big time teams get big time games on Mondays in the Big East.

Hard enough to turn around with one day between Saturday’s game and Monday’s, but then to do it having to travel on Sunday and after having an unexpected evening on Broadway ... well ...

Some dilemma.

“I told them to be responsible,” Huggins reported. “We need all the energy we can get on Monday.”

See, this is a game like few they will play outside of the Big East and NCAA Tournament.

The opponent is Villanova, which was the nation’s No. 2 team until the Wildcats got caught with their pants down at Georgetown. Maybe they were looking ah ...

No, let’s lay that one to rest right now.

Villanova was not looking ahead. They were victimized simply by the grueling nature of the Big East schedule, which is not far behind the NBA’s when it comes to facing a different kind of challenge every night.

They were on the road in Washington facing the No. 7 team in the country, a team that had been upset in its previous game by South Florida, so you can just scratch the idea that they were looking ahead at West Virginia. That wasn’t going to happen to a veteran team like Villanova.

They just had one of those games that you have during a basketball season, the kind of game that costs you one win but makes you twice as dangerous the next time you come out and take the floor for every bit of cockiness is shaken out of you.

It was exactly the kind of game Georgetown had before stunning Villanova.

Now, instead of thinking about how they can get to be No. 1, the Wildcats’ focus changes just to how they can

win the next one, and that happens to be before what figures to be a sold-out crowd, wearing gold in the Coliseum.

How whacky they are remains to be seen, considering that the eyes of the nation via ESPN and the administration will be focused on their every movement and the ears of the powers that be will be running the meaning of every subtle cheer through their anti-smut computers to see if the students are trying to get a double-entendre past the censors.

After the performance when Pitt was in town, the crowd has to find some kind of middle ground between being obnoxious and insulting while delivering the goods that make WVU’s Coliseum one of the most difficult arenas for visitors.

If the crowd has to change, the Mountaineers don’t. Huggins undoubtedly will leave no doubt in his locker room convincing his team that most certainly heeded his warning and had room service milk and cookies while hitting the hay at about 10 p.m. in New York City on Saturday that this is nothing short of a crusade.

But his public persona is such as to not place all of his eggs in this one basket for fear of coming out with nothing more than a basket filled with scrambled eggs.

“We try not to change,” Huggins said. “I’m not one of those guys who talk about this or that being the biggest game of all time. You take every game the same — respect everyone, fear none of them.”

But the fact is few regular season games have quite the aura this one has, as tarnished as it may have been by Villanova’s loss.

Villanova, which now stands at 20-2, possibly could fall below West Virginia when rankings come out today. WVU could jump past Villanova and No. 5 Michigan State, which lost over the weekend. That would give WVU a No. 4 ranking, the highest they have been in the rankings since December 1962, when they shot as high as No. 3 with Jerry West.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.