Kansas Comes Calling

Bob Huggins

With West Virginia's basketball season already in a tailspin, the Mountaineers have the unenviable task of taking on a Kansas team that could be No. 1 in the national polls by the time the Big Monday game tips off.

Asked what he likes about the Jayhawks after studying film, WVU coach Bob Huggins had plenty of strengths to point out.

"There's a lot of things, obviously," the head coach said on Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference. "They've got a great balance. I think they're very, very good defensively. They don't beat themselves. They do a great job of ball security. They really don't get out of sorts, out of what they're good at doing.

Two of the many talented players that make KU go, Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore, were cited for their individual attributes by Huggins.

Withey, a 7-foot center, averages 13 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game. McLemore, a 6-5 freshman guard, averages 16.2 points per game and also gets to the glass, grabbing 5.5 boards per outing as well.

"Obviously, Withey around the goal erases a lot of mistakes, changes a lot of shots and I think really gets in people's heads," Huggins said. "[McLemore] is terrific. He's got great athleticism, great lift. He's an outstanding shooter. I think as important as that, he likes taking big shots. He has taken huge shots for them down the stretch that a lot of people kind of shy away from. It seems like he relishes that role."

This will be West Virginia's first Big Monday game in Big 12 play, a game that, in years past, would have generated considerable buzz. But with the Mountaineers coming in below .500 overall and losers of four of their last five games, there hasn't been much talk in town about the contest.

Indeed, many tickets were available from online broker StubHub as of early Monday afternoon, with the cheapest going for less than $3 per seat.

"We've struggled. I never saw it coming that we would struggle the way we've struggled," Huggins said. "So, honestly, there hasn't been the kind of hoopla that you would think there would be around town. The paper sure didn't blow it up today as being a huge, huge game. I'm sure we have a lot to do with that, our play."

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • Asked his thoughts on potential Big 12 expansion -- given reports that the conference's athletic directors are meeting in Texas to discuss the pros and cons of moving beyond a 10-team alignment, among other topics -- Huggins expressed his opinion while acknowledging it ultimately won't matter much.

    "I'm kind of a traditionalist. I like 10. I like the round-robin style," Huggins said. "You get a true champion that way. The flip side of it is, everybody else has expanded, and you've got to wonder where everything is going.

    "I'm trying to figure out how we can guard the pick-and-roll right now, so I haven't had a lot of time to think about that. I let [Mountaineer AD] Oliver [Luck] and President [Jim] Clements handle those kinds of things ... [but] If football doesn't like it, football's going to expand."

  • As scoring continues to decline in the college game across the country, Huggins was asked what has changed -- and what, if anything should be done. It's a topic the coach is all too familiar with, as his own team is among the nation's worst in terms of field goal percentage (tied for 317th nationally at 39.5 percent).

    "Guys are bigger, stronger and faster than they've ever been. They guard way, way better than they've ever guarded," Huggins said. "Every time I think that when I played, we played so hard ... you go back, watch ESPN Classic, and the style of play is so different, particularly defensively.

    "The truth is, 6-7 guys were centers, now they're small forwards; 6-4 guys were power forwards, and now they're point guards. They're bigger, they're stronger, they're faster. They get to the ball faster. Athletically, we've changed so much, but the size of the court hasn't changed and the height of the basket hasn't changed. Obviously, there is less room."

  • A reporter also asked Huggins how the $25,000 bonus in his contract that is triggered with any regular season win over the Jayhawks came about.

    "I have no idea," he said. "You'd have to call my attorney. I had nothing to do with it."

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