MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- They will play the 626th game in the history of the Coliseum on Wednesday night when West Virginia opens its doors for Texas Tech. Tubby Smith will add to an exclusive tradition Adolph Rupp started more than 33 years ago.
The Red Raiders coach will be just the eighth coach to stalk the visitor's sideline after winning a national championship. Rupp won four at Kentucky before winning the third game in Coliseum history in 1970.
Smith won his title at Kentucky in 1998, the very season WVU beat Bob Huggins to advance to the Sweet Sixteen and then lost to eventual runner-up Utah. The 8 p.m. game against the Mountaineers on the Big 12 Network will be just the 20th time a coach with a national championship will be in the building.
The Mountaineers are 7-12 in the first 19. In between Rupp and Smith were Ohio State's Fred Taylor, Georgetown's John Thompson III, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Louisville's Rick Pitino and Kansas' Bill Self. Taylor beat the Mountaineers in 1971, Thompson was 2-1 and Calhoun was 3-2. Boeheim is 2-1, Pitino is 2-3 and Self is 1-0 with a win last year.
Huggins is 4-5 in his home matchups against championship coaches. There were just 10 such games from Rupp's appearance to 2006 and none from Taylor's game and WVU's first Big East game at home against Thompson's Hoyas in December 1995.
Much like there was in the Big East with Thompson first and later Calhoun, Boeheim and Pitino, the Mountaineers are guaranteed two every year for as long as Smith and Self remain and until the likes of Travis Ford at Oklahoma State, Scott Drew at Baylor or Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State cut down their own nets.
Smith is far away from another ring, but does have the Red Raiders on their way to something better than what they'd grown accustomed to with three coaches in three seasons before Smith. Chris Walker was 11-20 last season as an interim coach. Walker, who is Smith's associate head coach this season, relieved Billy Gillespie. He resigned in September 2012 for health reasons, but was also under fire for allegedly mistreating his players. Gillespie was 8-23 and lost 17 of 18 Big 12 games in his one season after replacing Pat Knight.
These Red Raiders, like the Mountaineers, are 10-8 overall and 2-3 in the conference, but on a different trajectory than WVU, which has lost three straight. Texas Tech has won two in a row, including a home upset against Baylor. The program hadn't won consecutive conference games in three seasons and ended a 12-game road losing streak in Big 12 play in Saturday's win at TCU.
"We're trying to build some structure and after that be creative and innovative," Smith said.
"You rely on them to grow. I don't want to stifle them and their creativity. I think a lot of it, because they've had a few different styles of play and systems over the last few years, is they needed some structure, some kind of way to see that they are making progress.
"If you just let them have freedom, it's hard to see that progress. I guess we could have done it another way, but we tried to get them to understand we're going to be up-tempo, we're going to run, we're going to play a style that's been successful for us and then kind of make them adapt their ability to what we do best."