Michigan-West Virginia was billed to headline the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival tripleheader. After watching the Mountaineers play Tuesday night, perhaps ESPN should move Fordham-Princeton to prime time.
Coach Bob Huggins sounded flat-out glum during Wednesday’s pregame teleconference, understandable considering his team couldn’t throw one in Lake Woebegone against Duquesne the previous night. A 60-56 loss to the not-so-mighty Dukes left WVU 4-4 heading into Saturday’s nationally televised game against No. 3 Michigan (10-0), which conversely is off to its best start since the Glen Rice national-title season of 1989.
“I think everybody thought it would be a marquee national game and we haven’t held up our end of the bargain,” Huggins said. “We thought at this time we’d be better than what we’ve been. I think everybody thought that.”
With an RPI that has tumbled to 113, West Virginia desperately needs an upset over Michigan to bolster its nonconference resume. Last week, Huggins made light of writers’ assertions that his team was already in NCAA peril, but after the Duquesne debacle, Huggins joined the panic parade.
“We’re sitting here with four losses in eight games and every game becomes critical for us if we indeed want to continue to play in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “They’re all important for us now.”
The overriding storyline involves Michigan coach John Beilein facing the West Virginia program he shepherded for five seasons. Though Huggins insisted this matchup was never about “me against John,” he acknowledged it makes a compelling plot point.
“I think it was a game that’s kind of sexy, with John being here and having great success and playing his former school,” Huggins said. “I guess that makes for good TV. But for us, it’s certainly a lot more than that.”
Beilein was his typical congenial self Wednesday, sounding rosy the morning after Michigan buried Binghamton 67-39. He waxed nostalgic for the relationships he made in West Virginia and the joy he felt watching WVU’s 2010 team reach the Final Four with some players he had recruited. As you’d expect, he was asked to contrast his coaching style to that of Huggins.
“I think we both get our young men to reach their potential and maximize their talent,” Beilein said. “When you’re the coach at Walsh and Akron (as Huggins was), when you’re the coach at LeMoyne and Canisius (as Beilein was), you have to do that or you’re not going to win. As a result we took that same philosophy when we had opportunities at Cincinnati and West Virginia and at West Virginia and Michigan, and we put application to them.”
Huggins repaid Beilein with a similar compliment: “He gets the most out of his guys, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. They play to their fullest potential.”
If only Huggins could say the same about his current team.