MORGANTOWN — They tell you the wait is the toughest part, the hours that lead up to the game.
In baseball, players will sit around and play cards or watch tape or listen to music. Football players, well, you’ve seen the movies, banging their heads against the lockers. If you think that’s all fake, think back to a man named Owen Schmitt.
Enough said there.
Boxers? Imagine, if you will, waiting and waiting to put on the gloves, to go out there and face Mike Tyson or Sonny Liston or Muhammad Ali. That sweat may come from getting loose or it may just be nervous sweat.
West Virginia University’s basketball team is waiting.
The Mountaineers played Villanova on Saturday, winning the game, setting themselves up for the Big East Tournament.
Great, except that they earned a double-bye and with such they rested on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and will rest Wednesday before finally springing into action … if they have any spring left.
That’s a lot of practice, a lot of tape, a lot of good ol’ fashion B.S. before a game.
Some good teams will ease themselves into a tournament, facing an opponent they should handle with no sweat. They can get used to the environment, to the arena, to the crowd without really being in danger of losing.
You get a double-bye and all you’ve earned is the right to skip that.
You have to come out running and gunning, ready for a fight from the first round against an opponent who is already game hardened.
That does not sound like the way this multiple personality group of Mountaineers want it to be.
They ease themselves into games, first half pansies who turn into second half warriors.
But that’s in December and January and February.
This is March and they have to have the madness from start to finish.
“If there is such a thing as making the opponent overconfident, we’ve mastered it,” Coach Bob Huggins said before leaving for New York on Tuesday. “We do a great job of that in the first half, but then we usually do a great job playing in the second half.”
It started as soon as the season did. First game, Loyola of Maryland. West Virginia would win 83-60 but the score was tied at 31 at the half.
That became a trend. Texas A&M led them by two at the half, Marquette by four, Purdue by five, Notre Dame by 20, Syracuse by one, Ohio State by 12, Louisville by four, St. John’s by 11, Villanova by 11, Connecticut by nine, Cincinnati by six, Villanova by 13.
Yeah, second-half comebacks are great, when they get you all the way back. But they couldn’t do it in all these games and in March the last thing you want to do is have a Jarrod West to make miss a shot to win a game.
Ask Huggins about that.
You are only going to get away with furious rallies so often, and far less against good teams than against bad team. And in March, you don’t play very many bad teams.
So now you have a team that hasn’t played since Saturday trying to roar into a tournament when that it is out of character for it. What’s more, it’s not exactly a Cinderella team, unless Cinderella went to the ball in steel-toed boots.
The Mountaineers are now one of the favorites to win, the nation’s No. 7 team.
Da’Sean Butler, their leader, doesn’t want to think about it that way, but it is the truth.
“I’m not even thinking about the whole target-on-our-backs thing,”‘ Butler said. “I think we’re an underdog every game. That’s the kind of mentality I want to come out with because I know how we play when we come out with that mentality.”
The fact of the matter is, considering the time between games to sit and think about what they are heading into, they may just be the underdog by game time.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.