MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After 829 coaching wins, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins finally earned a nomination for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this week.
With one more victory, against Fordham on Saturday, he’ll match Jim Phelan for seventh on the Division I all-time list, and the No. 10 Mountaineers (10-1) will head into Big 12 action with a near-perfect nonconference slate.
“It’s a great honor but it’s not why I got in this business,” Huggins said Friday regarding the Hall of Fame. “I love being around these guys and I love the game of basketball.
“I’ve been blessed with wonderful guys. The guys that I had that nobody else wanted to recruit who turned out to be the best of the best.”
His current squad features more players who were undervalued and overlooked coming out of high school, such as senior point guard Jevon Carter. The reigning national defensive player of the year leads the country in steals and has matured into an all-around force who contributes 17.5 points, 5.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Carter said Huggins’ success transpired because the coach demands the same from himself as he does his players.
“He’s always working,” Carter said. “He says nothing was ever given to him, and he feels like when he stops working that’s when someone’s going to pass him up.”
Carter’s backcourt mate, senior Daxter Miles, is scoring a career-high 13.8 points despite slumping to a career-low 26 percent on 3-pointers so far. His defense, rebounding and familiarity with offensive sets are the keeping him on the floor for 27 minutes per game, second on the team to Carter.
“We’ve had numerous conversations about how much we depend on him, and Dax knows that he is a huge part of what we do,” Huggins said. “His confidence doesn’t revolve around a jumpshot. He knows he’s not getting yanked. He’s missed more shots than anybody in program history probably, so he knows he’s not coming out. It makes a huge difference.”
Sophomore forward Lamont West, who averages 12.3 points, missed Wednesday’s 77-38 win over Coppin State with an ankle injury and remains questionable for Fordham (5-6), which was picked next-to-last in the Atlantic 10.
The Rams are coached by former West Virginia assistant Jeff Nieubauer, whose top assistant, Rodney Crawford, played under Huggins at Cincinnati. Five years ago this week, Nieubauer coached Eastern Kentucky to a near-upset in Morgantown.
An upset this weekend would be even more shocking, considering Fordham’s KenPom offensive efficiency ranks 324th in nation. The five opponents beaten by the Rams this season own a combined 10-46 record.
Then again, West Virginia saw the perils of taking a team likely when No. 5 North Carolina lost at home to 25-point underdog Wofford. So thoughts of Christmas break can wait until after the Mountaineers try to extend their 10-game winning streak.
“No distractions,” Carter said. “We want to keep our win streak going. We want to win this game, we plan on winning this game, and we’re going to prepare hard.”
Fordham (5-6) at No. 10 West Virginia (10-1)
Tipoff: Noon Saturday in Morgantown, W,Va. (AT&T SportsNet)
The skinny: Thanks to the school’s family day promotion, the 14,000-seat arena is nearing a sellout for Fordham. West Virginia’s average attendance of 9,892 through six home dates ranks third in the Big 12 behind Kansas (16,401) and Iowa State (13,844).
“The fans have absolutely been phenomenal,” Huggins said. “Wouldn’t it be great to sell out before Christmas to send the guys home with a lot of enthusiasm and hopefully a big win?”
RPIs: West Virginia 24, Fordham 292
Prediction: West Virginia 80-55