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WVU basketball: Mountaineers face a different St. John's

By Jack Bogaczyk

Bob Huggins spent some time last week considering the weather forecast for New York City. He understood what kind of storm was possible in the blizzard that Sunday brought almost 2 feet of cold, white stuff and gale-force winds to New York City.

That was then. Now, he wants his West Virginia basketball team (8-2) to come to grips with an arriving Red Storm (7-3) from snow-buried Queens, N.Y.

"I'm not sure anybody else in the league has the kind of depth St. John's has," Huggins said Tuesday.

He was talking about the Red Storm's frontcourt - not the snow blanketing St. John's campus - as erstwhile UCLA coach and ESPN analyst Steve Lavin coaches his Big East Conference debut tonight at the WVU Coliseum.

Tipoff is 7 p.m. (WCHS telecast) for the Mountaineers' 2010-11 Big East opener.

West Virginia has beaten St. John's 10 consecutive times, a streak that started in 2003-04. That's the Mountaineers' longest run of success against any foe in WVU's 15-season Big East history. Lavin was hired from Brent Musburger's and Dave O'Brien's sides to change things like that.

"Lav has done a great job there in getting them organized and getting them to buy in," Huggins said Tuesday. "They have great depth. When you bring in a (guard) Paris Horne off the bench, that says something.

"I don't think anyone in our league has three centers like they do in (6-foot-10 Dele) Coker, (6-8 Sean) Evans and (6-8) Justin Burrell.

"Nobody has that kind of depth there."

As for veterans buying in ... eight of Lavin's top 10 in minutes played are seniors.

St. John's has tournament titles in the Great Alaska Shootout and Holiday Festival this season, winning the latter last time out (Dec. 21) in handing Northwestern its only loss.

While St. John's has had an eight-day holiday break, WVU has played only a Dec. 22 exhibition against Walsh (Ohio) since giving Cleveland State its only defeat on Dec. 18. After that home game, Huggins wasn't sure how his team would come out of such a long layoff.

"It kind of depends on your team," Huggins said that afternoon. "Sometimes I think having a lot of time (off) is really good because you can get better in a lot of areas where you really need to get better.

"Other times, if guys don't come in with enthusiasm to get better, then it's miserable."

This Huggins' team, ranked fifth in the RPI on Tuesday and No. 7 in strength of schedule, was aided by the big break, he said.

"I think we needed it," Huggins said. "We're still a little banged up, and you need to be as healthy as possible (going into league play) ... We brought them back late Christmas night because I saw we may have a weather problem in the Northeast. I didn't want to wait and have our guys who live up there not be able to get back."

Huggins said point guard Joe Mazzulla (thigh bruise; he sat out the exhibition win) "went a little bit for the first time (Monday). Danny (Jennings, groin pull) still is hobbling around a bit."

The WVU coach hedged on a starting lineup as the Mountaineers begin league play with a home date before going to Milwaukee for a unique 10 a.m. (CST) tipoff Saturday against Marquette to air before six bowl games swallow the Jan .1 telecast day.

"I think we're going to wait and see who St. John's plays," Huggins said. "I think that's pretty much going to be the way we'll go the rest of the season, matching our people as best we can with who they start or play a lot."

Dribbles - St. John's hasn't won in Morgantown since an 80-68 triumph in 1998-99. The then-Redmen won a WVU "home" date, 86-74, the next season in Wheeling, when the Coliseum was closed for asbestos removal ... The Red Storm's leading scorer is senior guard Dwight Hardy (15.5 ppg), followed by forward Justin Brownlee (14.1) ... Huggins is 0-1 against Lavin, whose Bruins upset Huggins' fifth-ranked and a top-seeded Cincinnati team 105-101 in two overtimes in a 2002 NCAA Tournament second-round game at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. Lavin, 145-78 in seven UCLA seasons, never has coached against WVU ... The Red Storm's defeats were at St. Mary's (Calif.) and Fordham, and at home against St. Bonaventure ... WVU guard Casey Mitchell (17.5 ppg) ranks fourth among Big East scorers, although the senior is only 13-of-42 (.310) from the floor in the last four games.

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


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