There are some things West Virginia University women’s basketball coach Mike Carey knows about the Big 12 Conference and there are some other things he says he still needs to learn.
“We know we are coming into a great conference. We know it’s the highest RPI conference. We understand they have won the national championship the last two years (Baylor and Texas A&M) and we understand that 70 percent of the teams in the conference went to postseason. Those things we do understand,” he said. “But it’s still going to be learning year for us.”
Carey, like everyone else, knows the Big 12 starts with Baylor, looking to become the NCAA’s first back-to-back national champion since Connecticut did it in 2009-10. The Bears are once again loaded and boast the nation’s top returning player in Brittney Griner.
“They have a great team and great atmosphere,” Carey said. “You play everybody twice in the Big 12 and that is unlike what we did in the Big East. The Big 12 leads the country in attendance and that’s going to be big. And we all play in the same arenas as the men. That’s going to be different for us where in the Big East sometimes we played in arenas on campus and sometimes the crowds were not that big. When you went to Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville you had great crowds but not at all of the places. In the Big 12 we’re going to face that night in and night out on the road.”
Carey also said teams in the Big 12 are much bigger than what West Virginia went up against in the Big East. Part of that is because other Big 12 schools have tried to recruit size to match up against Griner.
“To compare the Big East to the Big 12, personnel wise, I think the Big 12 is a lot bigger,” Carey explained. “Where you had two or three big post players in the Big East (in the Big 12) you might have two or three on each team.”
West Virginia is down its best post player after senior Asya Bussie injured her knee during the second day of practice and was required to have season-ending surgery. With Bussie now sidelined, that means other players are going to have to step up, and Carey said Bussie’s injury may also change his approach a little bit as well.
“It’s never a good time to have a player go down. Asya Bussie was our leading scorer, our leading shot blocker and our second-leading rebounder and she gave us size,” Carey said. “It’s never good for that to happen, but at least it happened early and the players have been able to respond and learn new roles. A lot of times we counted on Asya to do things and now other people have to step up and take that on. Our guards are being more aggressive and Ya Ya Dunning has to pick up some of the slack, as well as other players on the team.”
Carey hinted that he may be forced to become a little more perimeter-oriented this year because of Bussie’s injury.
“We have to do what we do,” he said. “We are going to get out and run. We are going to use our quickness and we are going to defend. We have just got to keep people off the boards. We are not going to be as big as some of these teams, but I always look at it both ways – if we’re not as big then they have to guard us on the other end also. Hopefully we pull some of the big players out from the paint so we can be effective at times also.
“We felt good about coming in this year with our size and the veterans that we had in the post but things like that happen,” Carey added. “We just have to move forward. Our players have picked up the slack.”
Carey noted that playing the conference tournament at the American Airlines Center in Dallas will be a true neutral court environment for everyone. In the Big East, the conference tournament has been held in Hartford for the last several years where Connecticut plays many games each season.
“The Big East tournament over the last couple of years the crowds were great and that’s mostly because of Connecticut fans,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere and a great tournament and I understand this is going to be a great tournament. There are a lot of surprises always during tournament play and I expect this to be the same.
“But I don’t think anybody plays half their games here on this court, so I think it will be a little more neutral.”
Carey also touched on the extended travel his team will be facing this year. He said it will be one more adjustment his players will have to make.
“First of all, the best thing is our administration provides charters for us and that is big for us not having to go commercial because you are going to spend a lot of time in airports,” he said. “It is going to be farther and it is going to be longer and that’s part of adjusting to the Big 12. We have to be smart about it. We will bring our academic people with us but we will just be getting back a little later. Sometimes that will be an hour later than we normally would but we traveled in the Big East also.
“We are not going to use that for a reason not to be ready to play,” he continued. “We’re looking forward to playing in the league. Everything is positive. Nothing is negative and this is going to be a learning experience for us this first year.”
All in all, Carey said West Virginia left one great basketball conference to join another great basketball conference.
“We get away from Connecticut and now we’re going to play Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas and all these schools. It’s a great league from top to bottom,” he concluded.