West Virginia players who have played in the Big East and the Big 12 are all in agreement: both leagues are outstanding.
“The Big East has got a lot of talent and the Big 12 has got a lot of talent also,” said sophomore guard Jabarie Hinds
. “I can’t really tell much of a difference because teams in the Big 12 also push the ball – fast-break teams and stuff like that.”
However, beneath the surface there are some differences - some subtle and some not so subtle.
For one, the Big East has more teams. From one to 10, the Big East and the Big 12 are very comparable talent wise, but those last four-to-six teams in the Big East always provided some additional opportunities to get a team's record right during rough stretches in the season when things aren’t always going so well.
That’s not necessarily the case in the Big 12, especially with round robin play.
“I remember they used to say in the Big East you’ve got a couple of games you can win easily,” said sophomore guard Gary Browne
“Every game in the Big 12 … you’ve got to be ready to play or else you get beat,” added Hinds.
“There were nine or 10 teams that were very, very close, and then there were some others that weren’t,” said Coach Bob Huggins of the Big East. “I think because of the true round robin that we play in this league, I think there’s no question it’s a lot closer (strength wise).”
Huggins also points out that the fours in the Big 12 are a little more athletic than the fours West Virginia used to face in the Big East.
“I think the power forwards in the Big 12 are more three/fours than they are four/fives like they are in the Big East,” Huggins said. “They bounce it a lot better and I think, in some instances, people run a lot of offense through them, which wasn’t the case (In the Big East).”Deniz Kilicli
, who frequently has to guard the fours, agrees with his coach.
“They’re like three and a half in the Big 12,” he said. “They can put the ball on the ground and a couple of them can shoot it real well.”
Kilicli has spent his entire Mountaineer career bulking up to face those bigger posts that he went up against in the Big East. Now he finds himself frequently at a disadvantage having to guard smaller, quicker fours as well as the different offensive-oriented guards that are in the Big 12 this year.
“You’ve got (Baylor’s) Pierre Jackson, which he’s a smaller guard, but he’s extremely fast,” said Kilicli. “Oklahoma State has got big guards and they are strong. Lots of points in the Big East used to come from the wingmen or the fives like (Notre Dame center) Jack Cooley or somebody like that. Now, it’s more like point guards and twos are the elite scorers and the bigs kind of just rebound the ball and give the ball back (to the guards)."
Kilicli admits he’s oftentimes at a disadvantage whenever he has to switch on ball screens and is matched up with smaller, quicker guards who can score or dish the ball off to another scorer.
“I’m used to helping out on the wings and those guys are bigger and a lot slower than point guards, but point guards get in the middle and it’s so hard because they can find everybody,” he explained. “With wingmen, when you help on them, most of the time they can’t pass off where point guards can.”
“Our bigs sometimes have to guard outside on the perimeter and some teams have forwards that can stretch you out and take you off the dribble,” added Hinds. “Last year, there really wasn’t much of that.”
Hinds says another difference he has noticed is that most of the gyms West Virginia has played in the Big 12 this year are much more enthusiastic than what he remembers in the Big East because the games now are being played on college campuses as opposed to in pro arenas.
“There are a lot more fans in the Big 12 at the big schools it seems,” Hinds said.
And yet a more obvious difference is the way games are now being officiated - especially the physical play around the basket. What was overlooked in the Big East is frequently being called in the Big 12, and that has required the Mountaineer players to make an adjustment this season.
“For me, freedom of movement was better in the Big East because I could post up,” said Kilicli. “I can post up like this (raises both arms) and my elbow hits the guy and it’s a foul. In the Big East, they just let you wrestle the whole time.
“I got fouled a lot, too; I didn’t get fouled like this in the Big East last year because they didn’t call it. Now they are calling it.”
Browne said it’s on the players to make the adjustment to the way the games are now being officiated in the Big 12.
“They are just the referees and they are going to call whatever they are going to call,” he reasoned. “You can’t do anything about that and it’s something that we can’t control. We are going to play hard for the whole game and they might take the whole team out.”
Overall, Browne admits the experience of playing in the Big 12 this year has been a difficult one because the team’s record has not been what players – and Mountaineer fans – have been accustomed to.
“I can’t tell you that it’s been fun because we haven’t had a good season,” he admitted. “I haven’t really had that taste yet (of success).”