WVU basketball: Big 12 is all about the Jayhawks
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - West Virginia football's move to the Big 12 was accompanied by the suggestion that life there was about Texas and Oklahoma. WVU basketball's introduction isn't much different. The league is very much about the Kansas Jawhawks.
Make that the eight-time defending regular-season conference champion Kansas Jayhawks, who were showing off their bedazzled championship rings at Big 12 media day at the Sprint Center on Wednesday.
They will begin defense of that title as the preseason favorite to win the Big 12.
"Our players don't want to be the team that doesn't," Coach Bill Self said. "They put pressure on themselves not to be that. I think that's good. I think it means an awful lot to them. I don't think there is a jubilation of winning the league maybe that you would anticipate with our guys, because I think they take the approach this is our job. This is what we came here to do. So I really like their approach.
"I like how much it means to them. I like the pride they take in it, that sort of thing. But the most important one we could ever win would be this year's, and that's how I think our guys look at it. That is certainly how I look at it."
Since the league came together for the 1996-97 season, the Jayhawks not only have led the league in attendance, they have won eight Big 12 tournament titles and at least a share of 12 regular-season titles. Kansas has had seven conference player of the year winners and by far the most first-team and all-conference players. They're even tops in academic all-conference picks.
The Big East never had such individual dominance when WVU as a member, though the Big East was a better RPI conference in nine of the 16 years the Big 12 has been around and six of the nine years Self has been the Jayhawks coach.
"It's really amazing," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "You talk about home court advantages, and I don't know who has a bigger home court advantage than KU has. We went in there and lost by I think it was (by) 106 my year at Kansas State (2007). My 7-foot-2 center fouled out in seven minutes.
"When you talk about KU winning all of those, I think there is one guy really responsible, and that's Bill. He's a great coach. Of course having all those players doesn't hurt anything either, just in case you were wondering. That doesn't hurt at all either."
Huggins was 0-3 as the Wildcats coach against Kansas, but lost by 37 at Kansas, by nine at home and then by six in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinal.
* * *
THE MOUNTAINEERS will adjust to the tricky travel in the league and the status as the easternmost school and the only one in the Eastern Standard Time zone.
"They asked me there who our rivalry in the conference was going to be and I said, 'It's probably Iowa State. They're the closest. Only 853 air miles,'" Huggins said.
Cyclones Coach Fred Hoiberg heard and later laughed.
"Proximity wise, it works," he said "I can't sign off on it, though."
WVU will have a few quirks to deal with once conference play begins at the Coliseum on Jan. 5 against Oklahoma. They have three Saturday-Monday combinations where the latter is the Big 12's spot on ESPN's Big Monday. WVU has to travel for one of the two games in all three instances.
The Mountaineers play at Oklahoma State on Jan. 26 and then play host to Kansas on Jan. 28. They play at Texas Tech on Feb. 2 and play host to Texas on Feb 4. Those four games are in succession and the sequence is only broken by back-to-back road games at TCU on Feb. 9 and Baylor on Feb. 13.
WVU then plays host to Texas Tech on Feb. 16 to start the final Saturday-Monday sequence before Huggins returns to Kansas State on Feb. 18 for the first time since leaving there after the 2006-07 season.
Huggins said the travel and the time constraints could be an issue - and his teams have been seemingly cursed with travel problems - but it could also be a benefit.
"Maybe I screw them up over-coaching them," he said. "They won't have to listen to me as much. I kind of thought maybe we'd just stay the night and come back the next day. Maybe that would help. But they don't sleep anyway. After a game it takes them a while to go to sleep. They sleep better on the plane, I think.
"Have you ever noticed those guys sleep better sitting down than they do lying down? You put them in chair, they go right to sleep. Tell them to go to bed, and they won't ever go."
* * *
TCU IS the other new team to the league and the Horned Frogs come with a new coach. Former Nevada, Stanford and LSU Coach Trent Johnson replaced Jim Christian, who in his fourth season finally got TCU over .500 before leaving to take over at Ohio.
The Horned Frogs were 18-15 overall and 7-7 in the Mountain West. They lost their top two scorers, but return the MWC's sixth man and rookie of the year and the team's active leader in points, rebounds, games and starts.
TCU is also about to do for basketball what it's done for football and basketball in the past.
"The commitment to our locker room, I think you have to look no further than what happened to our football facility in a short period of time," said Johnson, who has been to the NCAA Tournament five times in eight years at three schools and won regular season conference titles at Nevada and LSU. "That's one of the things that attracted me to this job, that and the quality of players and the many players that are in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
"So the commitment from our institution is huge. We're going to have renovations started after the season in our locker room. But all that being said, the bottom line is our football program, our baseball program, they did a lot of winning before they got good facilities. We need to take care of our abilities, and not have a sense of entitlement, and everything else will take care of itself."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.