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West Virginia’s Huggins understands Big 12’s strengths

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, at 9:10 p.m.

— West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins spent a year at Kansas State, so nothing should surprise him as the Mountaineers embark on their first season as a member of the Big 12 Conference.

He can tell his players what to expect when they travel to Allen Fieldhouse for the first time, and he can teach them all about Baylor’s zone defense.

West Virginia’s transition from the Big East should be easy, right?

“I know where to go eat,” Huggins said, “but it’s changed since I was in the Big 12 when there was a north and south division and we played everybody in the south once and everybody in the north twice. There were places I didn’t get to go. I didn’t get to go to Lubbock. I almost wanted to stay (at K-State) just so I could go to Lubbock the next year.”

The Mountaineers will face challenges none of the other nine teams face on a regular basis, including long road trips and facing most opponents for the first time, though they did play Baylor and K-State last year.

That could make for some tricky games. In the Big East, West Virginia played many of its road games in NBA arenas instead of on campuses.

“Teams in the Big 12 probably have the best home-court advantage of any of the major leagues,” Huggins said.

And when he thinks back to an overtime victory over the Wildcats last year in Wichita, Huggins says mechanical problems on the team’s chartered flight delayed their arrival and departure. That’s not something he wants to experience every time he travels west.

“They asked me who our rival in the conference was going to be, and I said, ‘It’s probably Iowa State. Only 853 air miles.’ ”

Of course, that could create a tremendous home-court advantage. While West Virginia players will grow accustomed to their travel schedules after a while, it will be a new experience for Big 12 teams heading to Morgantown.

Huggins, who returns to the Big 12 with a 710-267 record and two trips to the Final Four, hopes West Virginia can adapt quickly. The Mountaineers are coming off a 19-14 campaign that ended with a loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

West Virginia was picked to finish sixth in the league this year, so a return to the postseason won’t be easy.

“Anytime half of your coaches have coached in the Final Four you’ve got a heck of a league,” Huggins said. “The Big 12 is certainly one of the premier conferences in the country.”

Sophomore guard Jabarie Hinds and senior forward Deniz Kilicli will be relied on to help West Virginia in the transition.

Kevin Jones was the team’s go-to player a year ago, averaging 19.9 points and 10.9 rebounds. The Mountaineers will miss him, but there are plusses to their new roster.

“We have a lot of options this year,” Hinds said. “We are a lot deeper and can play as fast we want. You are going to see us score more points.”

Huggins hopes that new style will surprise Big 12 opponents. But he won’t know for sure until the games begin.

“We’re just going to play the way we play,” Huggins said.

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