Finding their motivation: Who’s hungrier as WVU-Georgetown opens NIT?

Juwan Staten sat out Sunday’s practice to rest his sprained ankle, according to coach Bob Huggins. His readiness—and West Virginia’s urgency to keep playing—will be crucial to Tuesday night’s NIT opener at Georgetown.


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The motivation meter has been in full motion during the 24 hours since West Virginia and Georgetown learned of their NIT encounter.

Who wants this game more? Which team embraces the springboard effect and which team is effectually bored with playing in a B-side tournament?

On the who’s-happier-to-be-here scale, West Virginia looks like the winner. After being picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll—back when there stood a chance players named Macon and Holton might play—WVU finished sixth even without those guys. Add in the frequently-bemoaned fact that its roster is completely devoid of seniors, and WVU, theoretically, stands to gain plenty from an NIT experience.

The Hoyas, meanwhile, were picked second in the gerrymandered Big East but swooned to seventh place, capped by the even grander indignity of a first-day shelling in the league tournament by DePaul. What’s more, Georgetown features four seniors among its top eight regulars, seniors who planned on finishing their careers in the NCAAs.

Of course, such generalizations don’t always fit the team. Some are better equipped for bouncing back even when conventional wisdom points otherwise.

“You’re upset, mad, frustrated—that whole gamut of emotions. That’s the bus ride home,” coach John Thompson III said of the Hoyas’ embarrassing ouster from Madison Square Garden last week. “Then you get re-energized when you realize, ‘Okay, we’re still going to be able to play.'”

And playing against an old conference rival, which enriches the storyline a bit. At least it does on the Georgetown side, where some veterans actually remember facing and losing to West Virginia in 2011 and 2012. The lone Mountaineer with any hand-to-Hoya combat is junior Kevin Noreen, who played 11 scoreless minutes in a 74-62 win in Morgantown on Jan. 7, 2012.

That’s precious little experience guarding JT3’s Princeton-style offense, and Bob Huggins has precious few hours to teach his new players the ways to disrupt it. The quick-turn nature of the NIT gave the teams only one full practice and a game day walk-through to prepare.

“There’s not enough time” for detailed opponent preparation, said Huggins. “When we used to play them in the league we had two or three days to prepare.”

He called the 48-hour window from pairings to playing “less than ideal,” but that’s the NIT in a nutshell. Teams who put aside those circumstances and embrace the chance to keep improving are the ones who tend to keep playing.

Tipoff: Tuesday, 7 p.m. in Washington, D.C. at McDonough Arena (ESPN) … Why is the 2,500-seat campus arena is hosting a men’s game for the first time since December 2009? Because the Ringling Bros. circus is setting up for a Thursday opening at the Verizon Center. The venue figures to be packed by Georgetown donors given dibs on the limited tickets and students granted free admission to fill whatever seats remain.WVU received 150 tickets for the school’s traveling party.
Records: Georgetown (17-14) crushed Kansas State by 27 points in Puerto Rico, knocked off Michigan State at MSG and also beat Creighton, VCU, Providence and Xavier—all of whom made the NCAA field. The negatives were upset losses to Northeastern (RPI 213), a sweep at the hands of Seton Hall (RPI 124) and the first loss to DePaul in 20 years. … West Virginia (17-15) went 6-12 against NCAA qualifiers, highlights by upsets one Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor. The worst loss RPI-wise came in November at No. 239 Virginia Tech, which won only nine games.
Coach: John Thompson III stands 226-103 in 10 years at Georgetown after going 68-42 in four seasons leading Princeton.
Georgetown’s top players:The dangerous guard tandem of senior Markel Starks (17 points per game) and sophomore D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (16.9 points) has combined for 312 3-point shots and 314 free-throw tries. The only other player who average double figures was 6-10 UCLA transfer Joshua Smith, who played only 13 games before being ruled academically ineligible for spring semester. … Smith’s troubles meant more minutes for 6-9 junior Mikael Hopkins (6.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks) and rugged senior Nate Lubick (5.1 points, 5.5 rebounds). But Huggins said the Hoyas still get in the paint via back cuts. “They’re still going to get it at the rim by back-cutting, they run good side ball-screens and middle ball-screens.”
WVU roster notes: Despite spraining his ankle during the loss to Texas in the Big 12 quarterfinals, Juwan Staten (18 points, 5.8 assists, 5.8 rebounds) vowed he’d be ready to play in WVU’s next game. Huggins was noncommittal Monday about the status of his All-Big 12 point guard. “He didn’t go (Sunday) at practice,” Huggins said. “There’s no swelling, but other than that I don’t know.” … Eron Harris scored a season-low three points in the 66-49 loss to the Longhorns, quite a dropoff from his 28-point game in the regular-season finale against Kansas. … Remi Dibo is averaging 4.7 points in WVU’s last four games on 6-of-22 shooting and hasn’t gotten to the foul line once. … Devin Williams’ stark of three double-doubles ended with a thud in Kansas City , where he managed oily two points and three boards in 28 minutes against Texas.
Line: Georgetown favored by 3 1/2
Pick: Georgetown 71-64

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