WVU basketball: Rigorous travel schedule ahead for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It's not often that Bob Huggins leaves a conversation lacking clarity. Whether the West Virginia basketball coach is talking to an official, lecturing a player or explaining something to the media, Huggins is typically as certain as a slam dunk.
Typically, though not always. Huggins experienced one of those exceptions last week when he walked away from a five-minute conversation about the travel demands that await his Mountaineers in their inaugural Big 12 season.
"That," Huggins said with a shrug of the shoulders, "was a definite 'I don't know.'"
Imagine that from the man with 717 wins in 31 seasons as a head coach, including one season and 23 wins in the Big 12 at Kansas State in 2006-07.
"I honestly haven't been through this," he said. "I was in Kansas. We were basically an hour (flight) from everybody. I've never been through this before, this kind of travel on a day-to-day basis."
WVU (7-6, 0-1 Big 12) makes the first of nine conference road trips and the final non-conference road trip today when it travels to Austin, Texas, for Wednesday's 9 p.m. ESPN2 game against the Texas Longhorns (8-5, 0-1). The Mountaineers will take charter flights to each, but the closest trip is more than 850 miles to Ames, Iowa, and that Iowa State game is part of a potentially difficult sequence.
"Don't get me wrong, we've done it before," Huggins said. "In non-conference games at Cincinnati, we played everybody. We played Washington. We played Southern Cal. We played all those people, but it wasn't like one at home, travel four hours, come back and play at home and then travel four hours. I've never done that."
The Mountaineers have six other 9 p.m. starts and one 8 p.m. start. Four of the remaining late starts are road games, meaning the team will travel the day before, kill some time the day of the game and then leave after the game.
The NCAA requires teams to take one day off every week and WVU will use most of those on days after 9 p.m. starts on the road. That doesn't do much to address the valid concern about academics and attendance.
The Mountaineers won't land after a late road game until early the following morning. The team then buses from the Clarksburg airport back to campus and players will have a brief window for sleep before the class - and there will be some days where WVU practices the day after a late start because the next game comes quick.
"My plan is to get on a plane and fly home because they don't sleep after a game anyway," Huggins said. "If you put them in a hotel, they sit and talk, which I never understood, honestly, because they've got a bed, but they don't sleep. Put them in an airplane and they'll sleep.
"Why would we stay overnight? We're just going to get on the plane and fly back. I think they'll get more sleep flying back than they would if we stay."
The travel will crunch and compromise the preparation and practice time between games. WVU has only two four-day gaps between remaining games.
Every other break is one, two or three days. One of the four-day breaks is shortened because of a flight home after the late start.
The situation concerns Huggins, who has seen his team play barely above. 500, go 0-5 against the RPI top 135 and struggle to grasp and develop concepts despite a handful of lengthy breaks in a season that started Nov. 12 and dipped in Saturday's 67-57 loss to Oklahoma.
That game swung late when WVU's defense buzzed around the floor and twice left Steven Pledger open for critical 3-point baskets. Pledger is the teams' top 3-point shooter and the only one of the Sooners making more than one 3-pointer per game.
"The scouting report for (five) days was, 'Don't leave him open,'" Huggins said. "The scouting report for a couple other guys was, 'You don't have to come out and guard them. They're going to drive it. They're not shooters. They're drivers.' So then we run out and let them drive by us.
"That's just not knowing the personnel. I told them in the locker room, 'I don't know what we're going to do when we've got two days to get ready for a game when we had a week before this one.' They can't remember after we tell them for a week. What are we going to do with two days?"
Three of the remaining 9 p.m. starts are on ESPN's Big Monday feature where the Mountaineers play a game Saturday afternoon and then Monday night. For each, WVU either travels for the Saturday or Monday game.
WVU also has three back-to-back road games remaining and the NCAA makes teams come home after all games. For two, WVU will travel the day before the first game and travel home immediately after it. The Mountaineers will then make the most of three days before the next game, but travel to the second game after practice on the third day.
There is one tricky exception. WVU plays at Iowa State at 9 p.m. Jan 16 and at Purdue at 2 p.m. Jan 19. That means travel Jan. 15, 16, 18 and 19. To further complicate the situation, WVU has one of its four day breaks after the final non-conference game against the Boilermakers, but plays at home against TCU Jan. 23, at Oklahoma State in arguably the toughest road venue in the Big 12 at 1 p.m. Jan 26 and then plays host to Kansas, the league's top team, at 9 p.m. Jan. 28.
"You try to get them off their feet for 24 hours before a game, but that's going to be hard because we get back so late," Huggins said. "Do you get them up early so they can be off their feet for 24 hours or is it more important that they get some rest? I think that's the hardest part of the whole deal."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.