MORGANTOWN — Let’s get this straight right now.
The SEC-Big 12 Challenge that matches West Virginia and No. 15 Auburn in the Coliseum at noon Saturday on ESPN is not the NCAA Tournament.
Neither is it anything that truly measures the strength of the Big 12 against the SEC.
In fact, as important as it is to the Mountaineers as they quest for a spot in that NCAA field despite a disappointing 12-8 and 2-6 conference record, this is not as important as a conference game to them.
And, to carry it even further, despite Auburn’s Top 25 ranking and 16-4 record, it is like a break from Big 12 play to the Mountaineers. After all, Auburn is 30th in the Net while WVU comes out of this game and plays TCU, Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa State.
Those three Big 12 teams are Nos. 13, 65 and 9 in that same NET.
Every day is the NCAA in the Big 12.
There are those who would push the idea that the SEC might be better than the Big 12 if they win the other matchups. After all, it would give them three wins a row winning head to head.
“Let them go through what we go through on a year-by-year basis,” Huggins said. “We’re playing the best teams in the country year by year. You can say what you want about any other league, there is not a Kansas in any other league that’s done what Kansas has done.
“You go back and look at what our people do in the NCAA Tournament and what our people do out of conference; it’s not close,” he added. “I’ve coached in those leagues, and I’ve coached against those guys, and it’s not the same.”
Think about the SEC for a moment. They match 10 teams against the Big 12’s 10 teams. Think that doesn’t give them an advantage as they don’t use their bottom four teams.
The Big 12 does have what you’d call a bottom four teams and if they did, WVU wouldn’t be playing in this “challenge” anyway.
Now this is the last of these SEC-Big 12 Challenge things and Huggins admits he sees no need for it to be replaced.
Like what does the Big 12 have to prove?
Think of this way? WVU point guard Kedrian Johnson did not practice on Thursday and is questionable for the game. If he doesn’t play it would be a big blow to the Mountaineers and should Auburn beat them without him, does it really say anything about the relative values of the two leagues?
These, of course, are made for TV spectaculars and the only thing spectacular about them is the amount of money ESPN makes by televising them.
That should not take away from the kind of weekend this is for WVU. It starts Friday night with Auburn graduate Charles Barkley graciously joining Bob Huggins for his annual Fish Fry as the coach tries to be the spark behind the building of a regional cancer center in West Virginia.
A year ago he says they raised $2.6 million and expect to be in that same neighborhood this year.
Barkley plans to stay for Saturday’s game, which will give the Mountaineer players a chance to meet him.
“I didn’t know that was an option,” WVU sophomore Seth Wilson said, obviously thrilled at the opportunity.
Wilson admits he’s too young to have seen Barkley play but said he’s seen highlights.
“All I know him from is ‘Space Jam,’” he said. “Obviously, I know his legacy and how great a rebounder he was.”
WVU comes in thinking not about the challenge series but about turning what is now a two-game winning streak into a run into the NCAAs.
“The mindset was to build (on the last game),” Wilson said. “You can’t be satisfied. It’s just another win. We have to build on that and get better until the time comes we’re clicking on all cylinders.
“My main focus is on us because we got to get things right here and make sure we’re good, because at the end of the day it’s about us,” Wilson continued. “You can’t sleep on them, obviously. They are a great team. Got to take it just like they are in conference. It’s another game we have to go out and try to win.”
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