Mountaineers are healthier heading into NCAA Tourney
Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 23:03
When the West Virginia men's basketball team walked into its first practice following a 67-61 loss to Marquette in the second round of the Big East Conference Tournament, it expected a lot worse.
With head coach Bob Huggins at the helm, famous around college basketball for his three-hour practices and punishments like running full speed on a treadmill, he could've done his worst.
The Mountaineers had lost a 10-point lead against the Golden Eagles en route to an early departure from New York City, leaving the team out of momentum for a chance at a second straight run at a Final Four.
However, Huggins decided to take a different tactic into his team's practices prior to the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday. The fourth-year WVU head coach let the Mountaineers off easy.
"What are you going to do?" Huggins asked. "What are you going to prepare for? You don't have any idea what style of play you're going up against, if they throw it to bigs or if they're guard oriented. You don't have any idea."
WVU junior forward Kevin Jones even went so far as to call those practices "fun."
"We've been less stressed, because we haven't been focusing on an opponent," he said. "We've just been working on ourselves internally as a team. Everybody is in good spirits and had good energy."
Jones said WVU had its worst practices of the year in two straight days prior to facing Marquette. Huggins gave a simple reason for that: His team was sick. He admitted on Sunday that forward Cam Thoroughman and at least three other players were under the weather during practice, which limited what the team was able to accomplish in preparation for the Big East Tournament.
"When you have nine guys, and some of those guys are sick and pale and don't feel very good, it's hard to have a good practice," Huggins said.
Despite the sickness, the players aren't using that as an excuse. They knew when leaving Madison Square Garden after one game that the next few practices were the key to improving prior to NCAA Tournament play.
"The team's spirit has been up and no one is
holding their head down. Everyone knows that this is a new season for us," Jones said. "We are starting 0-0 and hopefully we finish 6-0."
West Virginia won't have as much time to fully focus on its opponent as most NCAA Tournament teams.
Because of the new 68-team field, the Mountaineers were part of the 12-seed play-in game that played Tuesday night. WVU will play the winner of the Alabama-Birmingham and Clemson game on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in Tampa.
"We've had a bonding experience over the last few days at practice," Jones said. "We've got team chemistry back, which we didn't have in the Garden … Everyone is in good spirits, so I think we'll have a nice run in the NCAA Tournament."