MORGANTOWN – Bob Huggins has been at this coaching thing for almost 39 years now and you’d think he has pretty much figured out this game of basketball that has dominated his life.
But he hasn’t.
There’s one aspect of the game that he just can’t get a grasp of and that’s how to win consistently on the road.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said, when the topic was raised as he put the finishing touches on his West Virginia basketball team before it left for a 2 p.m. Big 12 road game at Oklahoma that will be shown on ESPNU today. “I’m not smart enough to figure that out.”
Huggins has 878 wins – needing one to catch the legendary Dean Smith of North Carolina for sixth place all-time – but winning on the road remains a vexing problem for him, especially in the Big 12.
Huggins is 1-3 on the road in conference play this season with a team that is 18-4. All four losses are away from the Coliseum, the other one being in Madison Square Garden to St. John’s.
What’s more, a year ago, his worst WVU team did not win a conference road game, going 0-9.
And, since joining the Big 12, WVU is just 26-41 on the road, a .388 winning percentage.
“Familiarity has a lot to do with it,” Huggins said. “You feel more confident at home. Guys just feel more comfortable at home, more confident at home.”
Don’t believe that? Ask sophomore guard Jordan McCabe about being unbeaten at 12-0 at home this season.
“Home court is important. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s not,” McCabe said. “The best players on the best teams can kind of drown that out, but having the fans we do, with the passion they have, makes it hard to come in here and win. Ask anyone who has tried to come in here and win this year.”
It certainly has to be more than just familiarity.
“Really, we lost in Lubbock, but a lot of people lose in Lubbock. They’ve established that as a really good home court. We lost at Allen Fieldhouse. There’s a lot of reasons why you lose in Allen Fieldhouse,” he said, cautiously avoiding listing them.
Coaches always have tried to keep their road routine as similar to playing at home as possible, but it really is an impossibility, especially for WVU in the Big 12.
“I don’t know what you do, particularly in our case,” Huggins said. “We’re going to get on a plane and fly for over two hours. You get there, take a bus for another 40 minutes or an hour.
“Then, when you get there, what do you do? You want to have something for them to do. We look at some film. You want to go shoot, just to get them moving a little bit, but that hasn’t worked.
“We’re not going to shoot. We’re going to go get a bite to eat, watch some film and go to bed, then go shoot the next morning.”
It’s what comes with the territory of being the only eastern team in what is mostly a southwestern based conference.
“There’s not a lot you can do when you travel as far as we travel. It’s not like going to Pitt like we used to do or going to Georgetown. We’re traveling a good distance in the air and then a good distance on a bus after you land.”
But if Huggins is going to find a way to accomplish the many things he believes this team is capable of accomplishing, he is going to have to find a way to convince his team that home cooking isn’t always the best.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel