MORGANTOWN - For the first game in the final month of the regular season - a time when the drama rises with the stakes - there's little Big East Conference suspense attached to West Virginia's men's basketball game tonight against No. 16 Connecticut.
The Mountaineers (18-10, 9-7 Big East) and the Huskies (21-7, 9-7) enter in a tie for seventh place as they try to secure a top-eight seed and a bye in next week's Big East Tournament. One will leave the Coliseum tonight in a tie for seventh and the other will be in a tie for eighth.
Cincinnati (22-7, 9-7) plays at Marquette (18-11, 9-7) tonight with the winner joining the WVU-UConn winner in seventh place and the loser joining the other loser in eighth entering the final game of the regular season.
"It's hard to tell what's going to happen when the ties come into play, but two teams are going to be 10-7 and two teams are going to be 9-8," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "Obviously, you'd rather be 10-7."
And just as obviously, whether WVU emerges in seventh or in eighth before Saturday's regular-season finale vs. No. 11 Louisville depends on how WVU handles UConn's Kemba Walker.
The 6-foot-1 junior point guard from the Bronx, N.Y., is averaging 22.8 points per game and Huggins said "he very well could be the national player of the year."
"We're going to try some things, but he's really good," Huggins said. "What we can't let him do is go crazy, but we can't let him get his and help everyone else get theirs, too."
Walker also averages 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals in 37.2 minutes per game - and he plays 1.6 more minutes per game in Big East play. He's led the Huskies in scoring 22 times, including the first 18 games, this season.
UConn wasn't ranked in the preseason and was picked 10th in the Big East's preseason poll. The Huskies returned only Walker and center Alex Oriakhi, an all-rookie pick last season, from the group of last season's regular players. Yet those two have led a group that features three freshmen and a sophomore among the top six scorers.
"Look at what he's done," Huggins said. "He and Oriakhi are the only two mainstays they have left and they play a bunch of freshmen, but the freshmen are having really good years and he's aided them in having good years."