MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The good news for Mike Carey, the West Virginia women's basketball coach whose team is entering a new conference, is that his Mountaineers team was picked to finish second in the Big 12 preseason coaches' poll.
"In adding West Virginia, you've added an athletic, strong, physical basketball team that knows how to win and is extremely well-coached from a league that has seasoned that program over the years," Kansas State Coach Deb Patterson said. "They have lined up against the likes of Notre Dame and Connecticut year-in and year-out and have competed toe-to-toe with those programs.
"Short of having advanced to a Final Four, I think that has been a program that all of us that coach look at and go, 'Oh, my gosh.' That's an Elite Eight, or if things roll the right way, a potential Final Four caliber team. As we all know, in the NCAA Tournament, you need a little luck, you need some great pairings.
But this is one of America's finest programs."
Seeing as if the Big 12, and not the Big East, has produced the past two national champions and features one of the sport's all-time greats in Baylor's Brittney Griner, that was about as high a level of praise as WVU could have expected.
Above WVU is defending national champion Baylor and the Bears got all but one of the 10 first-place votes. Coach Kim Mulkey wasn't allowed to vote for her team, so she picked the Mountaineers.
The bad news for Carey and the cause for his concern as WVU prepares to open the season with tonight's home game against UNC Wilmington? The preseason poll occurred when the 2012 team's leading scorer and second leading rebounder, Asya Bussie, was healthy.
Bussie then tore her ACL on the second day of preseason practice and will not play this season.
"It's never good for that to happen, but at least it happened early and the players have been able to respond and learn new roles," Carey said. "Where a lot of times we counted on Asya to do a lot of things and now somebody else has to pick that up."
The Mountaineers took off last season when Carey began starting the 6-foot-4 Bussie and the 6-3 Dunning together. WVU went 10-5 with those two starting, including losses in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Dunning wound up as the team's leading rebounder at (8.8 per game) and fourth-leading scorer (8.3).
Without Bussie (12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 53 percent shooting), the focus in the post shifts to Dunning, who is now on her own top deal with the Brittney Griners and the rest of the big bodies in the league.
"We felt good about coming in this year with our size and veterans in the post, but things like that happen," Carey said. "We have to move forward. We're very positive. We think players have picked up the slack. Compared between the Big East and the Big 12 personnel-wise, I think the Big 12 is a lot bigger, where you had two or three big post players in the Big East where here you have two or three on each team. But we have to do what we do."