SPOKANE, Wash. -- As the clock strikes midnight tonight in West Virginia, Coach Bob Huggins and his Mountaineers will be tipping off 24 hours of college basketball on ESPN.
The first opponent on WVU's schedule is host Gonzaga, a nationally ranked program that returns four of five starters from the team that emphatically bounced the Mountaineers from the NCAA Tournament in March.
This is a daunting season opener, but one in which Huggins relishes.
By zigzagging three times zones to face the Zags here in the 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center, the veteran hoops headman can learn plenty about his team.
"I would rather (play Gonzaga) than schedule five games that we win by 30 or 40, so you mask your problems and then all of a sudden reality sets in," Huggins said.
"I think that's good."
Huggins, who at 59 years old will embark on his sixth season at his alma mater and 31st overall as a head coach, recalled a regular-season opener 11 years ago at Cincinnati.
On Nov. 16, 2001, Huggins' Bearcats suffered a 69-62 loss at No. 18 Oklahoma State.
It was a stiff challenge that allowed Huggins to assess his team and right the wrongs in mid-November rather than weeks or months into the season.
Cincinnati lost to a ranked team on the road and then reeled off 20 consecutive wins - by an average of 22.2 points - and made the arduous climb from unranked to as high as No. 4 in the national polls.
"We had some soul-searching, you know, and some guys questioned some other guys' fortitude and I questioned a lot of guys' fortitude," he said. "We knew what we had to fix."
The season-opening loss to Oklahoma State was Huggins' first chance to return to the floor following the previous season's 13-point loss to Stanford to conclude the season.
Gonzaga routed WVU by 23 points in the NCAA Tournament, leaving Huggins with a sore spot that didn't heal this offseason.
"I don't lose very well," he said. "There's a whole lot of people I'd like to play again. Like 14 of them."
Huggins called the loss to Gonzaga seven months ago "embarrassing."