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Huggins expands basketball schedule

By Jack Bogaczyk

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If there's anything that's been learned since Bob Huggins returned to his alma mater as basketball coach it's that he's going to play a quality schedule.

WVU's appearance last weekend in the Puerto Rico Tipoff was more proof of that. Although the Mountaineers (3-1) lost the title game to a well-coached Minnesota, the value gained in neutral-site games against good foes aids Huggins' team and program in more than the RPI.

The non-conference strength of schedule isn't going to change in future seasons, either, although Huggins could probably beg off a bit since the Mountaineers have 18 dates in the brutal Big East.

Huggins recently was asked about next season's schedule on his weekly radio show. Here's where his team is headed, with a few details added, about 2010-11 and beyond.

Miami (Fla.) will return this season's Dec. 4 date in Coral Gables to the WVU Coliseum next season. After a home-and-home series with Purdue ends this season in Morgantown, the teams are renewing for another of those starting next season in Big Ten country.

Huggins, who already plays one of his former sideline haunts in conference play (Cincinnati), wants to play another next year. WVU and Kansas State - coached by Huggs' former aide, Frank Martin - are close to finalizing a deal for a home-and-home. That's likely to start next season in Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.

Another thing about those major non-conference games Huggins likes?

Big East teams that play a date against a marquee outsider that gets picked for national TV (like Purdue at WVU in January) earn a $100,000 appearance fee (per game) from the conference revenue pool.

WVU also plans to get to 31 regular-season games next season by playing in one of those "exempt" events (multiple games count as one in NCAA scheduling guidelines) as it has in recent seasons.

This time, it will be the Las Vegas Classic. The Mountaineers get two home games, then a pair in Vegas. It's not the same tourney (Las Vegas Invitational) Huggins' team won two years ago. That eight-team field hasn't been announced yet.

The following season (2011-12), the WVU plan is to return to the ESPN-owned and operated Old Spice classic in Orlando, Fla., over Thanksgiving weekend. The Mountaineers finished second in that tournament in 2006-07, Coach John Beilein's final season in Morgantown.

By the time Big East play begins right after Christmas, Huggins' team will have played six road or neutral-site games. Contrast that with some other Big East top teams (Pitt, Louisville, Syracuse are examples), which rarely stray from home.

Huggins' philosophy has always been that playing away from home in December helps a team in March - with NCAA selectors and on the floor. Sounds like he's sticking with it.

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  • ON A holiday, here's a nice tale, depending on your perspective:

    If it's not how you start, but how you finish, then a one-time WVU legend in the making (or recruitniks) should feel OK about how his college days ended.

    Remember Jason Gwaltney? Well, Gwaltney ended his career by playing NCAA Division I, II and III football. Not many players can say that.

    Gwaltney was the rare five-star recruit at West Virginia. He played in six Mountaineer games as a freshman in 2005 before injury, academic issues and a boot from former Coach Rich Rodriguez.

    He went home to Nassau Community College on his native Long Island, and eventually bounced to nearby C.W. Post, rushing for 709 yards in six games in 2007. He transferred to Division III Kean (N.J.) last season.

    There, he played one game (eight carries, 37 yards) before breaking an ankle. That ended his junior season.

    The other night, I was combing through some NCAA rushing statistics before voting for the Gagliardi Trophy, which goes to the top player in Division III. There, ranked seventh nationally, was Gwaltney's name.

    In 10 games as a senior this season for the New Jersey Athletic Conference team, Gwaltney rushed 254 times for 1,412 yards (or 141.2 yards per game) and eight touchdowns. In one stretch, he had four straight 200-yard rushing days.

    He once considered Ohio State and Southern Cal before picking WVU. To those who go nuts over WVU recruiting, the running back from Long Island was Tevita Finau at WVU before Tevita Finau.

    Gwaltney, half-brother to WVU senior defensive line stalwart Scooter Berry, was supposed to be the stud. Berry was a throw-in who became a really good major college defensive lineman.

    Funny how things turn out sometimes.

    Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.


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