WVU basketball: Longhorns coach has sympathy for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Texas Coach Rick Barnes was swept by West Virginia this season, including his school's first loss in a Big 12 home opener last month and Monday's 60-58 loss at the Coliseum that left the Longhorns without a conference road win.
Yet Barnes has some sympathy for the Mountaineers during their inaugural run through the Big 12.
"Where I feel for West Virginia is everywhere they go, they're going through different time zones and when they come back home they lose an hour," Barnes said Monday, going on to spell out his concern for the physical and academic toll it must take on WVU's players.
"I think as time goes on, I think the league is really going to have to work with West Virginia. I don't know how to do it, but I think it's really tough on them. We're doing it one time here, but think about every trip you've got to go to a different time zone and come back and lose an hour. It's different."
The Mountaineers have played two conference road games with 9 p.m. EST starts on a weekday and have two more to go. They travel home after each one and typically don't reach campus until around 4 a.m. Players have morning classes so they can have afternoon practices.
WVU has no control over that part of the schedule, though Coach Bob Huggins said last month his idea was to play some of the late starts when the school was on its winter break.
What Huggins can control is the non-conference schedule before Big 12 play and taking measures to make sure travel fatigue doesn't accumulate quite as quickly.
The Mountaineers opened the season at Gonzaga, placed fourth in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., lost to Michigan in Brooklyn, N.Y., and then interrupted conference play with a loss at Purdue.
"With all the travel and everything, it would have been nice to have a week off when we went to Purdue," Huggins said. "It would have been nice to have rested a few days, maybe get healed up a little bit and fix some things. I don't think we're going to travel the way we have during the non-conference season."
WVU always has played a demanding non-conference schedule under Huggins, complete with an invitational and whatever reasonable television opportunities he could get at home or away. Frequently those interrupted Big East play, but the travel in the Big East wasn't like it is in the Big 12.
The Mountaineers will travel 31,128 miles this season, including 22,580 for conference games - and that doesn't count the trip to Kansas City for next month's possibly pivotal Big 12 tournament.
The trick, though, is that there are fewer television opportunities before conference play, where there is greater competition for the spots. In conference play, networks have more space and are willing to showcase particular matchups.
Huggins has also strengthened NCAA Tournament resumes in each of his first five seasons with a strength of schedule buoyed by non-conference games. The Mountaineers were No. 35 in strength of schedule Tuesday and that helped a team with an 11-11 record reach No. 91 in the RPI.
"The biggest questions and concerns people had when I came back here were, 'Are we going to play a better non-conference schedule?' " Huggins said. "I think we've tried to do that. I think we've tried to bring attractive non-conference teams in. I think what we need to do is probably try to keep those games out of our conference schedule."
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WVU COMMITTED its seventh turnover of the first half with 8:11 to go before halftime Monday and Texas scored for a 17-10 lead. The Mountaineers had no turnovers the rest of the half, made 8 of 10 shots, all three of their 3-point attempts and outscored Texas 22-8 to lead 32-25 at the half.
Deniz Kilicli had a travel on WVU's first possession of the second half and that was the only one for the first 6:52 of the half. The Mountaineers made 4 of 6 shots to start the second half, pushed the lead to as large as 11 points and led 44-37 when things changed.
WVU had four turnovers in 2:10 and took just one shot in five possessions. Two Texas steals led to baskets and the Longhorns soon had a 49-47 lead.
"If you want to win the games like Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, games like that when you're playing against players who are going to make shots even when you're guarding them, you can't have these turnovers," Kilicli said. "When you play against teams like that and when we turn the ball over on offense and we don't get a shot, that hurts us because they will make it."
WVU finished with 16 turnovers, the 13th time in 14 games with at least 10 turnovers.
The exception was an eight-turnover game against Kansas, which was WVU's most promising effort against a top team this season. In the 14 games, WVU has averaged 13.7 turnovers and has had more turnovers than assists nine times.
In those nine games, WVU's shooting percentage is just 39.1 percent and the Mountaineers are 3-6. Two of the wins are the past two games, where they've shot 51.8 percent and have built double-digit leads in each game before slipping and letting both opponents back in the game.
Opponents have averaged 15 points off turnovers the past 14 games. WVU is allowing just 66 points per game in that span.
"If you just throw the ball away, (Big 12 opponents) will get you on the other side," Kilicli said. "We won with 18 turnovers (against Texas Tech) but we shot the ball pretty well. If we're playing like we normally play, if we play our average game, we can't turn the ball over like that because they're going to make shots. That's why we're not in second or third in the league."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.