Column - Tough non-conference schedule benefitting battle-tested Mountaineers in Big East play
Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, January 23, 2012 11:01
One thing I've learned while covering a Bob Huggins- coached team is the 30-year head coach does more than coach X's and O's.
The man is one the best recruiters in the country, turns boys into men and, most importantly, schedules strategically to prepare his players for what's to come.
Huggins' teams always seem to play their best basketball at the end of the season.
And, much of the reason for this is because his teams have been thrown to the wolves in non-conference play.
Let me explain.
West Virginia played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country this season.
The Mountaineers played 13 games outside the Big East Conference this season, while finishing with a 10-3 record against those teams.
Eight of the 13 teams are currently in the ratings percentage index (RPI) top-100.
This would help explain how West Virginia is currently No. 11 in the RPI.
"We did the schedule to make sure that our RPI and strength of schedule were good," Huggins said. "I want to give them a chance to play in the NCAA tournament – that's why they came here."
Mississippi State (No. 40), Baylor (No. 3), Oral Roberts (No. 47), Kansas State (No. 27) and Marshall (No. 46) are the five non-conference opponents in the RPI top-50.
So, you have to be wondering:
Why on earth would someone schedule such a brutal non-conference schedule with nine freshmen listed on the roster?
"If you don't play anybody in the preseason schedule then you get in a game like this, and it's the first time, guys have a tendency to panic," Huggins said after his team defeated Big East foe Cincinnati in overtime. "We've been in a bunch of them."
And, it's not just the quality of teams the Mountaineers have played.
The dates they've been scheduled have also been strategically planned by the veteran head coach.
West Virginia played in Kansas against Kansas State on a Thursday in early December, and then played Miami in Morgantown the next Saturday, two days later.
I don't think so.
Huggins wanted his squad to be prepared for the Saturday-Monday scheduling in conference play.
"When you're as young as we are, I think it helps," he said. "I think our non-conference schedule really helps us."
Whether Huggins' precise scheduling has helped the Mountaineers or not, the success can't be contested.
West Virginia is currently 5-2 in arguably the most talented basketball conference in the country.
The battle-tested Mountaineers are also 3-1 in overtime games.
Leading scorer and senior leader Kevin Jones certainly thinks the scheduling has given his team an advantage.
"That's why coach scheduled such tough games in the beginning (of the season)," Jones said. "He knew it was going to prepare for the Big East, and it definitely did. I think we'll be prepared for the tough schedule ahead."