By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Bob Huggins, we suspect, is far more into philosophers like Al McGuire and John Wooden than he is into the mystic ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, but rest assured he is well aware of the wisdom in the words Tzu uttered in a dynasty that came along even before Wooden’s UCLA dynasty.
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step,” Tzu is said to have said.
And so it is for Huggins on his thousand-mile journey toward an NCAA basketball championship, the one that twice has eluded him after having reached the Final Four, once with the Cincinnati Bearcats, then last year with his third West Virginia University team.
He just didn’t expect that single step to be a backward one.
In a New York minute on Wednesday night his team went from defending Big East champion to former champion, the Mountaineers unraveling in the second half against a Marquette team that has proven this year it can beat them in the a.m. and in the p.m., losing 67-61.
It was one thing when the Mountaineers dropped a decision in Milwaukee. That was New Year’s Day at 10 a.m. and, to be honest, not many of us would have been ready to play under those circumstances.
But this game, as late a start as it had, was before any of them had hit the East Side or the West Side.
There were no excuses, especially after nearly everything they threw at the basket in the first half went in as they built a 10-point lead.
But it was a different team that came out of the locker room from the one that went in there, a team that seemed to forget that Kevin Jones existed, a team that somehow managed to go more than nine minutes without putting the basketball through the basket.
Part of it was that they seemed to freezing Jones out, although possibly the defense of Jimmy Butler had something to do with that.
How, though, does a team shoot 58 percent in the first half, seemingly hitting a 3-point shot for every light bulb on Broadway, then come out and look like the halftime shootout in the Coliseum.
Without getting too deeply into a philosophical discussion about what is right or wrong with this world in which we now live, it is time to offer one observation about this game in the context of the modern era where we have statistics about the statistics and video of everything but the potty habits of opponents.
WVU certainly was prepared for the likes of Jae Crowder and Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom, but when push came to shove – and in a Big East game, push always comes to shove – those guys didn’t beat them.
Instead, they gave up 32 points to the Marquette bench. Thirty-two!
It wasn’t Crowder or Butler or Johnson-Odom … it was someone named Junior Cadougan, who brought an average of 3 points a game into this contest. His average took a sizeable jump with 15 points.
Certainly he was not a featured player in the scouting report, and in the tape breakdowns it’s highly unlikely that Huggins grabbed his players and said anything about how West Virginia has to stop Cadougan, a sophomore named Junior who played like a senior.
So now you can forget that No. 5 seed, maybe a No. 4 in the NCAA Tournament, had WVU won this one and maybe squeezed out another. It’ll probably be a No. 6 seed, and if you thought you might be driving to Cleveland or D.C. to watch them play, the best guess is that they’ll be asking the Oklahoma cowboy Dana Holgorsen to borrow some boots and spurs because they almost certainly will head west.
And, if they play the way they did in this Big East Tournament, they probably only need to bring an overnight bag.
But then again, maybe it’s not as bad as it seems. It’s like Jim Calhoun, the wily veteran Connecticut coach, said when he played last week in Morgantown.
“I want to skip the Big East Tournament and go right to an easier one,’’ he said.
The easier one?
“The NCAAs,’’ he said.
Hopefully, for the Mountaineers’ sake, he was right, because this year the Big East Tournament was just too tough for them.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.