Difficult Hoop Schedules
Another Big 12 game and another nationally ranked foe for the West Virginia University men’s basketball team.
Tonight’s contest against 15th-ranked Iowa State will be the ninth nationally ranked opponent the Mountaineers have faced this year, with at least one more ranked opponent on the horizon when West Virginia plays host to fifth-rated Kansas in Morgantown on March 8.
The game against Oklahoma in Norman on March 5 also could be against a nationally ranked team (Oklahoma is just three spots shy of returning to the polls), depending up on how the Sooners fare against 24th-ranked Texas on Saturday.
And WVU could play at least one more ranked team in the postseason, depending on how far it advances in the Big 12 tournament or beyond.
Facing top-25 opponents has become the norm under veteran coach Bob Huggins, who seems to have an affinity for scheduling made-for-TV games against top quality non-conference opponents.
No coach in WVU history has faced more ranked opponents, on average, than Huggins has – and just one other coach, John Beilein, even comes close to Huggins.
After tonight’s game against Iowa State, it will be the 69th nationally ranked team that Huggins has faced in 236 career games with the Mountaineers. That comes out to 29.2 percent of the games he’s coached at WVU, or close to a third of the total games he’s coached here.
Next in line is Beilein, whose Mountaineer teams faced 43 nationally ranked teams in his 164 games at WVU. That averages out to 26.2 percent. Naturally, membership in the Big East and Big 12 Conferences have had a lot to do with this.
But from there, the drop-off is substantial.
Gale Catlett faced 86 nationally ranked teams, but that was spread out over 715 career games, which averages out to 12 percent of the games he coached here.
WVU coaching legends Fred Schaus and George King faced nationally ranked teams in 13.1 percent of the games they coached at West Virginia – Schaus dueled 24 ranked teams in 183 career games while King matched wits against 19 ranked teams in 145 career games.
The rest of the percentages for Mountaineer hoop coaches since 1950: Sonny Moran (9.6 percent of his total games against nationally ranked teams), Bucky Waters (6.4 percent), Red Brown (5.8 percent) and Joedy Gardner (5.3).
Yes, indeed, Huggins’ WVU teams are playing the most difficult schedules in school history, and the proof is in the rankings.
By the way, I was curious to see what type of schedules Huggins faced while he was at Kansas State, Cincinnati and Akron.
Based on what I was able to uncover, Huggs had 89 games against nationally ranked teams while he was at Cincinnati (in 526 career games) for an average of 16.9 percent.
The number dipped to 14.2 percent during his one season at Kansas State in 2007, and just 2.1 percent during his five seasons at Akron (three ranked opponents in 143 career games).
No, you can’t say Huggins is ducking the best teams in college basketball – at least during his last three stops at Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia.
Just for fun, I looked up the percentage of games Mike Krzyewski and Jim Boeheim have played against nationally ranked teams during their long and storied coaching careers.
Coach K has faced 323 ranked teams in 1,283 career games at Duke for an average of 25.2 percent, while Boeheim has gone up against 280 ranked teams in 1,262 contests at Syracuse for 22.1 percent.
From above, if you recall, West Virginia is currently playing ranked teams at a 29.2-percent-clip under Huggins.
That just gives you an idea of the competition the Mountaineers are facing on a nightly basis now in the Big 12.
Not to minimize the accomplishments of some of West Virginia’s greatest teams of the Golden Era of the 1950s and early 1960s, but as one former coach once pointed out to me, when the Mountaineers were playing in the Southern Conference WVU’s hoop teams could count on at least 10-12 wins a season before the ball even went into the air.
Consequently, that meant if West Virginia went .500 for the rest of its schedule then the Mountaineers were well on their way to a 20-win season, which the good guys managed to accomplish nine times during an 11-year period from 1952-63.
West Virginia won an NCAA record 44 straight regular-season games in the Southern Conference during a four-year period from 1956-60. Part of that was a result of some great players and some great coaching, and, yes, part of that was also a product of the conference schedule West Virginia played back then.
Regarding national rankings, the West Virginia women are inching closer to the Top 10 in the AP Poll for the first time since Jan. 24, 2011, when the Mountaineer women sat at No. 8 in the country.
West Virginia that year reached a program high of No. 6 two weeks prior, on Jan. 10, 2011.
Mike Carey’s Mountaineers have been in the national polls for 37 total weeks, or nearly all of the time West Virginia has spent in the national rankings during its 40-year history. Kittie Blakemore’s 1992 team was in the national rankings for five weeks in 1992, reaching as high 11th before Duquesne upset the Mountaineers in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament that season.
West Virginia is actually 10th in this week’s USA Today Poll, made up of women’s coaches throughout the country.
After tonight’s game against Texas Tech, the Mountaineers have a big one at sixth-ranked Baylor on Sunday afternoon in Waco, Texas. That could be for the Big 12 regular season championship.
Following the announcement last Friday evening that former Penn State assistant coach Tom Bradley was joining Dana Holgorsen’s coaching staff, I began racking my brain in an effort to come up with another assistant coaching hire in Mountaineer football history comparable to Bradley.
West Virginia has certainly attracted many outstanding assistant coaches through the years – Gary Tranquill in 1978 is one that immediately comes to mind.
Tranquill was coaching the defensive backs at Ohio State in 1978 when Woody Hayes lost his job after punching out Clemson’s Charlie Baumann at the end of the Gator Bowl. Tranquill then joined Frank Cignetti’s WVU staff for the 1979 season as defensive coordinator, and a year later when Don Nehlen replaced Cignetti, Nehlen did everything he could to keep Tranquill in Morgantown.
Tranquill agreed to stay, but he wanted to switch over and run West Virginia’s offense and Nehlen had no problem with that.
“Whatever Gary wanted to do was fine with me, because he was such a good coach,” Nehlen once told me.
But as far as assistant coaching hires go, the one probably most comparable to Bradley has to be Bobby Bowden when, in 1966, Jim Carlen convinced him to coordinate West Virginia's offense. At the time, Auburn’s Shug Jordan was also after Bowden, but Bowden thought his opportunity to land a head-coaching job was much better at WVU than it was at Auburn.
Carlen gave Bowden complete autonomy with the West Virginia offense and Bowden introduced Mountaineer fans to a wide-open attack the likes of which they had never seen before. In fact, Bowden’s very first play as offensive coordinator against Duke in the ‘66 season opener featured a double-pass to John Mallory for a touchdown.
“I brought Bobby in because he knew the throwin’ game,” Carlen once said.
Bowden was also an outstanding recruiter, responsible for some of the best Mountaineer players of that era, including All-American middle guard Carl Crennel.
Speaking of recruiting, after talking to some of my Pittsburgh friends, here is a small sampling of the guys Tom Bradley brought to Penn State over the years: Lavar Arrington, Brandon Short, Sean Lee, Paul Posluszny, Shane Conlan, Stefan Wisniewski, Kim Herring, O.J. McDuffie, A.Q. Shipley and Justin King.
Are you familiar with any of these guys?
A lot has been made of the attempt by some coaches to slow down hurry-up offenses in college football, but hurry-up proponent Dana Holgorsen believes a mountain is really being made of a molehill.
“I don’t view it as a big deal,” he said. “I went slower last year than I have in the last 10 years, because we were not very good at executing,” he said. “How many times did we snap the ball with the play clock in the 30s? I would challenge you that it wasn’t very many. But I don’t agree with (the proposed new rule), and I don’t think it’s a good rule.”
New Mountaineer defensive coordinator Tony Gibson also doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal.
“From the defensive standpoint, I don’t know if it changes anything,” he explained. “If they are going to let us sub a guy with nine seconds and then they are going to hold it again until we get set, yeah, that’s going to affect things. But I don’t think that’s the intent of the rule. I think that if people really sat down and broke it down and watched it, you may have one or two snaps a game snapped in that time frame.”
Looks like Charles Sims helped his draft status after the sub-4.5 40 times he ran earlier this week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Tavon Austin went from being a projected second or third round pick into the first round following a strong showing in Indianapolis.
Hopefully, Charles enjoys a similar boost.
Last but not least, a story to put a bow on things.
It was in the early 1970s when Sonny Moran was in an intense recruiting battle with Purdue to sign Charleston’s Levi Phillips.
The coach at Purdue back then was Charleston’s own George King, former star Morris Harvey and NBA player. Other than Hot Rod Hundley, there was no bigger name in Charleston basketball circles than George King.
The handsome and well-spoken King was making a great impression on Levi and his family, and Moran was very concerned that he was going to lose the state’s No. 1 prospect.
During a home visit with Levi’s mother, Moran sensed that she really liked Coach King and Purdue, but she also wasn’t too sure about letting her son go that far away from home to play basketball.
“I just love that Mr. King, he’s such a wonderful man,” Mrs. Phillips told Moran. “But I don’t want my son going all the way to Peru to play basketball.”
Moran, putting his hand on the leg of WVU assistant coach Gary McPherson, leaned over and replied, “You know, Mrs. Phillips, Peru is an awful long way from Charleston, isn’t it?”
Levi Phillips ended up signing with the good guys, scoring the first-ever basket at the WVU Coliseum.
And now you know the rest of the story!
Enjoy your week!
Baseball: Kansas Game Three Highlights
Football: Gold-Blue Spring Game Highlights
Spring Football: Daikiel Shorts Postgame
Spring Football: Tony Gibson Postgame
Spring Football: Dana Holgorsen Postgame
Baseball: Kansas Game Two Highlights