NEW YORK - Much is made of the advantage that teams with a bye have in conference tournaments. In the Big East, the topic is ripe for debate because while half the field earns a first-round bye, a quarter of the teams get a two-round pass.
Where West Virginia is concerned, however, the difference between a two-round bye, a one-rounder or no bye at all might not be as significant as it is for other teams.
Why? Because coach Bob Huggins practices his team so hard that it probably matters less if his team is playing its third game in three days or its first. Practices the previous two days were generally no picnic.
"I think he coaches the end of the year the same way he coaches at the beginning of the year,'' forward Cam Thoroughman said. "We go hard. There's not much difference.''
Not all coaches follow that formula. Many taper practices as the year goes on, especially at tournament time when games can come at a breakneck pace and conserving energy is considered vital.
Now, Huggins is not a masochist. He's not overworking his team in game-day shoot-arounds or skimping on the days off that allow players to get their legs back.
But neither is he backing off on the same sort of preparation for games that he was doing in November and December.
"You can't change what you're doing,'' Huggins said. "You still have to be ready.''
Case in point is this week. The Mountaineers practiced hard on Monday, then had another full workout Tuesday before traveling to New York. They opened play and lost to Marquette 67-61 Wednesday night in the second round at Madison Square Garden.
Marquette, meanwhile, played the late game Tuesday and then had to do it all over again roughly 22 hours later.
Granted, the results were not what WVU had hoped for, but save for the few hours of time difference between when WVU practiced and traveled and when Marquette played, there probably wasn't much difference in energy expended, especially considering the Golden Eagles had a relatively easy night of it in a 21-point win over Providence.
True, things will get a little testier as the week goes on for the teams that have survived. Connecticut and Marquette both played Tuesday, won two games and now face fresh teams in today's quarterfinals. If either team is to win the tournament, it would have to win five games in as many days.
The two teams that got first-round byes and won (St. John's and Cincinnati) are looking at four in four. The top four seeds don't begin play until today's quarterfinals and face three games in three days.