By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
This trip to Kansas, Bob Huggins said Tuesday, will carry nowhere near the emotions that he had upon his first trip back to Cincinnati.
“Going back to Cincinnati was going to Shoemaker Center and the city of Cincinnati,” Huggins said as he took a break from his preparation for tonight’s 9 o’clock meeting with his former Kansas State team. “This is in Wichita, which is 130 miles from Manhattan. It’s not playing in (KSU’s) Bramlage (Coliseum). I don’t think it’s anything like it.”
He hopes it isn’t like that 2009 return to Cincinnati.
Huggins had an NCAA Tournament team then, a team with a pair of NBA players in Joe Alexander and Devin Ebanks, but Cincinnati beat them twice that year.
The first game was in Morgantown the previous season and the final score was 69-32, with WVU going 1-for-22 from 3-point range. Alexander was 0-for-9 shooting and, Alex Ruoff 1-for-7, 0-for-5 from 3.
“The first time we played Cincinnati here we set the school record for ineptness. I hope that’s not the case (against K-State),” Huggins said.
The rematch was better, although Cincinnati still was able to beat a WVU team that was playing without an injured Joe Alexander, 65-61.
Some said the players tried too hard in those games to get Huggs a win.
Truck Bryant, the senior guard, was there, and he remembers it.
“We definitely wanted to win it for him,” he said.
This time they are looking forward to making it happen, although Huggins isn’t emotionally involved having coached their just one season. Still, he needs a victory, for his RPI ranking and just because the other alternative is so objectionable to him.
“I detest losing,” he said.
Clearly he is the underdog as he goes up against former assistant coach Frank Martin, whose team is 6-0 but unranked.
That does not make the Wildcats any less dangerous.
“They play the way I wish we played. We just haven’t executed with young guys,” Huggins said.
In truth, K-State under Martin plays the same style that WVU plays under Huggins.
“They remind me of the team when I was in my prime here, my sophomore year,” Bryant said. “Defensively, it’s crazy. They get after the ball, attack the ball every chance they get.”
Huggins said that in Monday’s film session his team got a chance to see where Kansas State is now and where his team is and how far it has to go to reach the same level.
“K-State takes things away from people. You
watch their games, no one runs offense,” Huggins said. “They are like the way we were for the last four years. Their opponents end up having to ball screen and spread and play one-on-one with everything coming off the bounce. We haven’t been able to do that.”
And that really is the goal, but it may take a year. K-State, like WVU, is young, but it isn’t playing their freshmen in key roles as much as the Mountaineers are. The Wildcats’ starting lineup has one freshman, while WVU has two and often has three freshmen on the court at once.
With freshmen, there is much to learn, including how to play in a hostile environment on the road. The Mountaineers ventured on the road for their first true road game last week and lost to a good Mississippi State team, 75-62, when they could not react to a late run that put the Bulldogs in charge.
Huggins has given his team a difficult early season schedule, with this one of the toughest.
“It’s a game against a team that is going to be an NCAA Tournament team. It’s in a new arena that is going to host NCAA Tournament games. It is on national television. It’s kind of what you want,” he said.
One reason is to toughen them up for Big East play; the other is to help build their resume for postseason, something he says he talks to them about every day.
“Some guys say you shouldn’t talk about it, don’t put pressure on them. The reality is, I don’t want them ever coming to me and saying, ‘I wish I would have known. If I had known I might have prepared a little harder, played a little harder.’ I want to make sure they know where they are, what they have to do and what’s going to happen.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.