KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After 32 years of head coaching, of pushing players’ buttons and gauging psyches, Bob Huggins admits he’s no Nostradamus when it comes to predicting how his team will perform in the postseason.
“The longer I do this the more I realize I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have a clue—that’s being honest.”
How West Virginia proceeds during the Big 12 tournament will distinguish whether this squad springs into March Madness or consoles itself in the NIT. As Wednesday morning’s practice concluded at the Sprint Center, the Mountaineers (17-14) were 80th in the RPI, a number ripe for fluctuation during coming days as teams rise and recede across a litany of conference tournaments.
Up first comes Texas (22-9) in Thursday night’s late quarterfinal. Surviving that game means West Virginia likely gets to face Oklahoma or Baylor on Friday. The most optimist vibe holds that two wins could lift the Mountaineers into NCAA contention. More realistic: The at-large opportunity has vanished and only a Big 12 title will carry them into the Dance.
“We don’t know exactly how many games it would take to get in, so our goal is just to win,” said point guard Juwan Staten. “We feel like we definitely have a chance to beat any team in this conference.”
STAYING IN KC
Kansas City has the Big 12 tournament through 2016 and could remain its permanent home, just as it was for a half-century’s worth of Big Eight, Big Seven and Big Six tourneys.
Of course, there’s now an oddity to the arrangement: Since Missouri bolted for the SEC, the Big 12 is the only power league playing in a state outside its membership footprint.
That’s hardly a drawback, though, considering the University of Kansas sits a mere 45 minutes away.
The league experimented with Dallas and Oklahoma City for the men’s tournament, but didn’t receive the same level of news coverage and community interest.
“From what I understand, it’s sold out,” Huggins said. “How many conference tournaments can say that?”
The Mountaineers coach likes the venue, though he joked of making a quick exit with last year’s loss to Texas Tech: “We weren’t here very long last time, so it’s hard for me to have an idea. We came in, got beat and left.”
NO BIG SCREEN
With Thursday’s game not scheduled to tip off until 9:30 p.m. Eastern, West Virginia players had the option of catching a matinee. Instead they opted for coming early to the Sprint Center and watching the daytime session games: Iowa State vs. Kansas State and top-seeded Kansas vs. the Oklahoma State-Texas Tech survivor.
“We gave them a choice of whether to go to the movies, but they all want to come to the games,” Huggins said. “It may have been the selection of movies, I don’t know.”
Though encouraged by the 15 minutes Terry Henderson played in last Saturday’s win over Kansas, Huggins wasn’t sure how much the sophomore guard could contribute against Texas. A draining bout with mono forced Henderson to miss four games.
“He’s better, but he’s not close to 100 percent,” Huggins said. “His weight’s not back, his stamina’s not back.”