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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Big East Notebook

Big East Notebook
By John Antonik for
March 7, 2006

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia is in the unusual role of having to watch Wednesday’s opening round of the Big East men’s basketball tournament instead of preparing to play a game. Mountaineer coach John Beilein says it is something his veteran team can deal with.

West Virginia's John Beilein watches his team play Cincinnati last Saturday, March 4, at Cincinnati's Fifth Third Arena.
AP photo/Tom Uhflman

“It’s only happened one time in my entire coaching career that I’ve had to wait out that first game,” Beilein said. “If anything, we’ve learned from (last year) that just because a team has played the day before doesn’t mean you have an advantage. We showed that to Boston College and Villanova last year. We played one, two, three games in a row … it doesn’t make any difference.”

What is different is the way his team with its first-round bye will prepare for a tournament as competitive as this one.

“We are going to go over to the Garden in the morning (Thursday) and just shoot a little because we would have a disadvantage of not having shot there,” Beilein said. “I think our familiarity of playing there last year and (playing) St. John’s this year will help.”

As unsettling as it is facing either Pitt or Louisville in Thursday’s quarterfinal, Beilein says it is also unnerving waiting in the hotel all day until 9 o’clock when the final game tips off.

“That is a late, late game,” Beilein said. “It will be a long day for the coaches. The players, we’ll let them sleep in a little bit so it probably won’t be that long for them.”

Beilein says having already played both Pitt and Louisville recently helps his coaching staff prepare for two contrasting styles of play.

“What is good about it is that we’ve just played them in the last two weeks,” Beilein said. “I would not like to be playing Marquette or someone else from that standpoint of preparation. Unfortunately Louisville and Pitt are both very, very good but I think we’ll be prepared to make final adjustments on Thursday afternoon.”

In the meantime, Beilein says his team has worked on both Pitt and Louisville in practice.

“We’re going to see 2-3 zone or we’re going to see a very good man-to-man,” he said. “We tried to mix in both (Monday) and we’ll mix in the same thing (today).”

Beilein believes No. 1-seeded Connecticut and second-seeded Villanova are the two prohibitive favorites to reach Saturday’s championship game. The Huskies and Wildcats finished the regular season with identical 14-2 records to earn first-round byes. The rest of the field, according to Beilein, is pretty equal.

“What Villanova has done being 7-1 on the road in this league is very good because they don’t have a big-time big man like Connecticut, who can sometimes just rebound the ball so well that you don’t have a chance,” Beilein said. “They can have an off shooting night but they’ll get second shots.

“Villanova is a lot like us that they have to really shoot the ball well to win. Even when they haven’t shot the ball well they’ve found ways. The rest of us are fighting.”

Despite being battle tested playing one of the nation’s most difficult schedules and making an impressive run to the championship game in 2005, Beilein says this is a different season entirely.

“We can’t go into this thinking anything else but that we have to scrap and claw and do everything we can to play for a while in March,” he said. “It’s not one and done yet, but it will be very soon. We want to go into this Big East tournament with the approach that it is an NCAA tournament and how long can we survive?”

Unlike last year, the Mountaineers know they aren’t playing for their NCAA tournament lives this year. That pressure has already been removed with a 20-win regular season playing 16 teams in the RPI Top 50 (only Michigan State has played that many RPI Top 50 teams).

“It’s almost a funny feeling going into it and that’s why I was very interested to see how we would compete at Cincinnati (a 78-75 loss),” Beilein said. “I thought that was a positive that we took out of that game. We competed for 40 minutes and had some tough breaks or we would have won that game.”


  • Wednesday’s first-round games will feature eight teams that should all make post-season play either in the NCAA tournament or the NIT. The first round features a pair of 19-11 teams facing off in the first game in Cincinnati and Syracuse.

    The second game pits 19-8 Georgetown against 15-12 Notre Dame. The night session features the battle of New Jersey with 18-10 Seton Hall taking on 17-12 Rutgers. The final game of the night has 21-6 Pitt facing 18-11 Louisville.

    All four games will be televised on ESPN.

    On Thursday, Connecticut will face the winner of Syracuse-Cincinnati. Marquette will meet the Georgetown-Notre Dame winner. Villanova takes on the Seton Hall-Rutgers winner, while West Virginia plays the winner of the Pitt-Louisville game.

  • For the first time since joining the Big East, West Virginia had two players picked to the all-conference first team in seniors Kevin Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey. That’s a major accomplishment considering the league has now expanded to 16 teams.

    “When you look at the history of the Big East and then look at the history of West Virginia being represented on those teams and to have two very deserving guys … those two are special players,” Beilein said.

    On Tuesday night senior Joe Herber was named the league’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

  • Madison Square Garden was where forward Frank Young really stepped up his game last year, helping West Virginia to upset wins over Boston College and Villanova when Tyrone Sally came down with a stomach virus. Young recently went through a tough stretch but came out of it with a solid performance at Cincinnati last weekend.

    “He seems to be not fazed by tough-game situations,” Beilein said. “I think he played very well against Connecticut here and he ended up playing well the other night. He’s had his good and bad days but everyone on this team has. He’s a key for us, especially if he rebounds like he did for us against Cincinnati.”

  • Last year West Virginia was the darlings of the Big East tournament. This year the Mountaineers are one of the favorites, meaning the response from New Yorkers may not be as receptive.

    “From what I read, we don’t have the type of personality that people would turn on,” explained Beilein. “I think our kids have endeared themselves to a lot of people throughout the nation. And while they may not root for us, I don’t think they will turn against us either.”

  • Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese conceded Tuesday night that the league may have to look into expanding the conference regular season schedule from 16 games to 18 in the near future. Some coaches have pointed out that since only 12 of the 16 teams make New York City for the conference tournament, it is only fair that each team plays each other during the regular season. This year West Virginia did not face DePaul or Rutgers.
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