Miles McBride

WVU guard Miles McBride (4), goes for a steal in a game in Morgantown on March 7.

MORGANTOWN — OK, it was bad enough when West Virginia’s trip to Bermuda to participate in the late November Battle for Atlantis Basketball Classic, a tournament with a national profile that could have helped establish the Mountaineers as a team with a national profile this year.

But to move it to Sioux Falls, South Dakota? In late November?

That was heartbrrrrrreaking ... emphasis on the brrrrrr for weather.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic kicked back up again and where do you think things were hit worst.

Right. South Dakota.

One TV network news cast called it the worst hit place in the world at the moment, and that’s where the Mountaineers were going to open their season.

From a tournament at a swank Caribbean resort to the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic ... talk about a change.

All that was bad enough, but then they started messing with the Mountaineers opponent.

They wound up with Texas A&M penciled in to play the Mountaineers in the opener, a national name.

And then A&M pulled out due to health concerns and, believe it or not, it hurt Coach Bob Huggins more that A&M left the tournament than it it did the Aggies themselves.

The substitute? Northern Iowa.

“We’ve been told we’re going to play three or four different people,” Huggins said in the midst of the Big 12 Coaches Preseason Conference Call. “It’s been tough — tough from a preparation standpoint.”

See, teams at this level don’t just show up and play the game. They spend a lot of time looking at film, getting together scouting reports, talking to friends in the coaching profession who have played the opponent, in this case Texas A&M.

They begin looking at strategy, at how you will play against them, while at the same time looking at your own team and how it matches up, about how you want to approach the opening game of the season.

And then A&M is gone and Northern Iowa is in its place.

“We thought we were playing Texas A&M for the longest time,” Huggins said. “We have watched film on Texas A&M and we’ve broken down Texas A&M.”

That’s what all the other teams in the tournament did, but they still are playing the same opponent.

“The one spot that always seemed to be left open was ours,” Huggins said.

He thinks he knows what’s going on and it isn’t just worries about the pandemic.

“I understand a lot of people don’t want to play us. I understand that. They don’t want to play against our size and they don’t want to play against our perceived great half-court defense,” he said.

Thanks for the compliment and no thanks.

“At the same time, we have been at a tremendous disadvantage compared to everyone else, other than the people who’ve just been added to the field because we never know from day to day who we’re going to be playing.”

In a way they lucked out that it was Northern Iowa who was found to fill the void, for rather than getting a bye into the second round, WVU at least wound up playing a team it faced last year, a team it beat, 60-55, in something of a coming out party for Deuce McBride, who scored 18 points and had five assists.

What he remembered about the game was that Northern Iowa took advantage of a problem that would plague WVU all season.

“They did a good job making us make perimeter shots, we just didn’t make perimeter shots,” Huggins said, well aware his team missed 13 of 17 3-point tries.

That, however, is different this year.

“We’ve solved that this time around. We will make perimeter shots,” Huggins said, knowing that the likes of Sean McNeil, Taz Sherman, Jordan McCabe and McBride have been hitting outside shots through the preseason.

Huggins isn’t complaining about facing Northern Iowa, saying they are a Top 50 team.

“It’s a quality game. It’s a hard game. I don’t know we took them serious enough last year,” he said.

But, in the end, it is what it is — a product of what we’ve gone through in 2020.

“You look at the path that everybody has from game one to championship game three and, obviously, it’s far less than equal,” Huggins said. “We just have to do what we do and hopefully this is good preparation for us in March when you play a game, you win and you sit there waiting to find out who you are going to play next.”

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