MORGANTOWN - Mike Carey has been down this road before. He's had highly regarded basketball teams that, at least on paper, seemed as if they could simply get off the bus most nights, go through the motions and still be expected to win.
He's just never had one at West Virginia. Or in the Big East Conference.
OK, so maybe we're talking apples and oranges here. Those powerhouse teams Carey used to coach were comprised of men. They were playing in Division II or even the NAIA. The conference they so often dominated was the West Virginia Conference.
Still, there is common denominator between those Salem College teams that Carey led to five WVC titles, two NCAA Division II Elite Eights and one Final Four, and the West Virginia women's team that begins its season Friday night ranked No. 11 in the country.
In both cases Carey sometimes had to play the heavy, a job that, if you know the guy's coaching style at all, you understand he is very good at. Expectations don't always translate into success, especially if the players involved read too many of their own press clippings and get sucked into all the talk of how good they are.
Make no mistake about it, there is a lot of talk about how good Carey's Mountaineers can be this season. The Mountaineers were a near-consensus choice among the league's coaches as the No. 2 team in the Big East behind Connecticut. And really, can't we just unilaterally anoint UConn as the best program on the planet and vote for the best among the mere mortals.
In that poll, the Mountaineers even got Geno Auriemma's vote.
Anyway, back to Carey playing the heavy. Again, it's been a while since he had a team with this much preseason praise, and none of the ones he had before came during his decade as the women's coach at West Virginia. And as much as he likes to say that he treats all of his teams the same, well, to a point that might be true. But sometimes with great expectations comes a bit of cockiness.
Carey has seen it before and he knows how to kick it in the rear.
"We went through that last week some and I had to tweak them some,'' Carey said. "Last year we won 29 games. This year we haven't won a game. So I don't know why we think we can come out here [to practice] and not go hard. Nobody's going to lay down for us just because we won last year.
"I told them the other day that it doesn't seem like we're as hungry as we were last year. Well, that's my job to get them hungry. So we've had some interesting practices.''
So just how good does this West Virginia women's team look on paper? Well, all five starters are back from a team that won a school-record 29 games. Senior forward Liz Repella and senior point guard Sarah Miles are both on the preseason All-Big East team. There is not only experience and depth everywhere (seniors Korinne Campbell and Madina Ali and 6-foot-4 sophomore Asya Bussie are the other starters) but new talent as well, including a pair of Division I transfers. Ayana Dunning, a 6-3 sophomore who transferred from LSU, had 10 points, eight rebounds and a block in 18 minutes during an exhibition win a week ago.