TAMPA, Fla. - There was a potential positive involved in West Virginia's basketball team having to wait until late Tuesday night to find out who its first-round opponent would be in the NCAA tournament.
And a handful of the Mountaineers did just that. Bob Huggins, though, was not among them.
The positive spin? Well, while being forced to wait for Clemson to play its way into the No. 12 seed and a spot opposite fifth-seeded West Virginia here on Thursday, the Mountaineers got more of an opportunity to polish their own game.
That's often overlooked in the buildup to important games, or so says WVU guard Joe Mazzulla.
"I say that because last year we had, I think, five or six days to prepare for Duke. And I thought that was too many days,'' Mazzulla said, referring to the national semifinal loss in Indianapolis. "We got away from what we wanted to do and we really concentrated on them for five straight days. I think this is better for us, where we focus on us. It's almost like a regular-season game, where you have a day and a half to prepare for them.''
Indeed, that's all the time West Virginia has, beginning at roughly midnight Tuesday - when Clemson knocked off UAB 70-52 - and ending Thursday when the tournament's round of 64 tips off at 12:15 p.m. at the St. Pete Times Forum. So between last Wednesday's loss to Marquette in the Big East tournament and today's first practice for a known opponent, Huggins had little choice but to abandon game prep and concentrate only on improving what his own team does.
But as he points out, with a depleted roster that's not always as easy as it sounds.
"I think it [being able to practice just what his team does] would be a plus in the right situation,'' Huggins said. "But I've said this before - and I love him, he's been great for us - but when you've got Craig Carey playing power forward [on the scout team], that's not really testing Kevin Jones.
"It's hard for us to get a lot out of what we're trying to do offensively because we don't have enough bigs to be able to assimilate anything anybody's going to do. And I think that's been a problem towards the end of the year.''