NEW YORK - The West Virginia men's basketball locker room isn't a land of liberty - and that's just fine for the Mountaineers.
WVU (15-5, 5-2 Big East) has won three straight and five of six with its still-young lineup. It enters tonight's game in third place in the conference with a chance to finish with one of the four two-day byes in March's Big East Tournament.
The Mountaineers are doing it with one of the league's youngest teams, but WVU is playing as well now as it has all season.
"We don't give them a lot of choice," Coach Bob Huggins said. "It's like I tell them all the time, the biggest reason why most of the guys came here is because they knew they were going to play.
"They knew we didn't have a whole lot of guys coming back so they knew they were going to play. The opportunity has been there for all of them and most of them have made the most if it."
WVU has seven first-year players and a redshirt freshman on the roster. Two freshmen start, two true freshmen and the redshirt play off the bench and a junior college transfer sees occasional minutes depending on the opponent.
The Mountaineers will meet a team tonight that is actually less experienced and also has no choice but to go with it.
St. John's plays host to WVU at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm (8-11, 2-6) roster includes 10 freshmen and a junior college transfer. The team uses six of those freshmen and the juco.
"Theirs are more athletic than ours," Huggins said of the Red Storm's youth.
St. John's started 3-0, but hasn't been able to sustain that early success. It's lost four in a row and six out of seven. The Mountaineers didn't start quite as well, but have built on some low moments to reach their current high point.
WVU lost an exhibition game in November to a Division II school, lost by 10 points at home to a Mid-American Conference team, lost by 13 on the road to a ranked Southeastern Conference team, lost to a Big 12 team that was ranked as high as No. 3 and lost twice on the road in Big East games, once by a big margin and once after building and losing a big margin.
"I thought they took it pretty hard," Huggins said of the losses. "I think they know not to handle it very well."
The season has instead been defined by the way WVU has rebounded - and not by ranking third in the conference in rebounding margin.