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WVU basketball: Mountaineers to play in SEC/Big East Invitational

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's 2011-12 men's basketball schedule will include a second appearance in the SEC/Big East Invitational.

Who and where the Mountaineers play is still unknown and is just about all that remains to be settled for next season's slate.

WVU learned of its inclusion last fall and had to make only a minor change to its schedule to facilitate the made-for-television event.

"Once it was determined the day we would play we had to move someone on the schedule who was in that spot before," said WVU Deputy Athletic Director Mike Parsons, who assists in scheduling. "It happens all the time in basketball, especially when TV is involved. You try to accommodate as many people as you can."

The invitational, which is tied 8-8, started in 2007. The Mountaineers were part of the inaugural edition. They beat Auburn, 88-59, in Birmingham, Ala., as part of a doubleheader that included Georgetown's 70-60 win over Alabama.

Last December it was announced the format would change from four neutral-site games to 12 on-campus games from Dec. 1-3. The new plan will include all of the SEC teams and all but four of the 16 Big East teams - and all but five of the 17 when TCU joins next year.

A Big East team will play four times in six years with two games at home and two on the road. Parsons said WVU plays on the road this coming season.

The schedule for Coach Bob Huggins' fifth WVU season, which won't be released until the summer, is otherwise complete ... although subject to unexpected changes.

"Until the contracts are signed, nothing is done," Parsons said. "There are so many different schools dealing with so many different dates.

"Hypothetically, say we have a game on a Wednesday night in December and against Team X. Well, say Team X decided it's trying to get Team Y to play a home game and the only time they can get that game is on that Wednesday night. Then you have to adjust."

The Mountaineers also have learned about the opposition in the Las Vegas Classic. They'll play two home games against some combination of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Bethune-Cookman, Kennesaw State and a still undetermined team, likely sometime in the Dec. 11-17 week.

Win or lose, WVU travels to Las Vegas to play a combination of Baylor, Missouri State and Saint Mary's (Calif.) on Dec. 22-23 at the Orleans Arena.

Baylor ended a 20-year streak without an NCAA Tournament appearance by making the field as an at-large selection in 2008. In 2010, the Bears, from the Big 12, advanced to the Elite Eight.

Saint Mary's, of the West Coast Conference, has been among the more successful mid-majors the past several seasons. The Gaels made the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2008 and won two games in 2010.

Missouri State won 26 games this past season and its first Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title.

Shoring up the SEC/Big East Invitational and the Las Vegas Classic accounts for an important part of WVU's schedule, which was mostly taken care of before.

Director of Basketball Operations Jerrod Calhoun said the Mountaineers will play 30 games next season, 18 of which are in the Big East. The plan every year is to schedule three non-conference games against high-major teams and one top-shelf tournament that can include several games, but only counts as one toward the total.

The SEC/Big East Invitational joined previously planned games against Miami (Fla.) at the WVU Coliseum and Kansas State Dec. 8 in Wichita, Kan., as the high major dates and WVU could get another with Baylor.

A Huggins-discussed home-and-home renewal with Purdue never materialized, Parsons said.

"Then you want to play the best mid-majors you can play," Calhoun said.

The annual Capital Classic against Marshall at the Civic Center left Calhoun with four openings.

"I think out of those, we've got three very, very good mid-majors - as good as I could get from around this area that made sense," he said.

Previously, Calhoun said one of those three, which he still can't reveal, was particularly appealing.

"We're talking about a really good coach and a really good program and a team that, if you look at the history of the mid-majors, has been in the NCAA Tournament a lot," he said in January. "We were pretty surprised they wanted to play."

Calhoun said he's following the model used the past few seasons and never with more success than what was witnessed last year. WVU played the third-hardest schedule in the country and, according to Huggins, the most difficult in school history.

The Mountaineers played five of their 12 non-conference games against teams in the RPI top 54. Three more were in the top 100. Oakland, Vanderbilt and Purdue made the NCAA Tournament.

"The goal from here on out is to have a top-10 strength of schedule," Calhoun said. "There are different variables we have to use, but it's all about RPI and strength of schedule. I think that's why we got a 5 seed in the (NCAA) Tournament and I think if we do that and do what we're supposed to do within the conference and with non-league games, I think we'll be rewarded.

"We looked at the top mid-majors again and looked at the location and some relationships we have. Once it's released, I think everyone will be happy."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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