CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When I placed a call to WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins, I knew what I was facing.
The man needs one win to tie Ray Meyer for 18th place on the all-time NCAA Division I coaching list. He has 723 victories. He's the third-winningest active coach behind Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim.
Yet I've observed recent developments, which have all but shelved big men Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton. I'm familiar with most of the Mountaineer roster - with the exceptions of Remi Dibo, Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins.
And I had but one question for the coach: How are you going to make this work?
Quite frankly, I don't see how the Mountaineers can be successful this season. And others agree. In the Big 12 preseason media poll, WVU was picked to finish seventh. In the preseason Athlon magazine, the Mountaineers were picked to finish ninth.
Here's the kicker: Athlon's editors made their picks before knowing the fates of Macon and Holton.
Huggins, though, is a masterful coach. There's no denying that. He's a future Hall-of-Fame guy. And, with the exception of last season's 13-19 hot mess, he's earned every stripe. His first five WVU teams went to the NCAA tournament, including the 2010 Final Four unit. One has to give this team a chance, if for no other reason than Huggins.
Yet I had to ask. How can it win?
"We're all right," he replied. "Teams don't play more than nine [players] anyway. We'll get there.
"[Player losses] happen all the time. Sometimes I think we live in a vacuum here. Look at Duke; look at other teams. Everybody plays with nine guys. You have injuries. You have transfers that don't work out. I mean, how am I going to know if a guy is going to pass a test?"
Huggins has a point. At times here we tend to focus solely on the Mountaineers or Marshall's Thundering Herd. On Thursday, though, I clicked to Sports Illustrated's Internet site, specifically the men's basketball page. Eight of the 14 stories listed centered on suspensions, injuries and transfers. "Texas A&M guard [J-Mychal] Reese suspended indefinitely." "Mitch McGary's status still uncertain for Michigan." "Transfer guard [Joseph] Young cleared to play for Oregon." You get the idea.
"[Being able to sign] 13 scholarships," Huggins said, "is a lot different than 15."
But back to WVU. The Mountaineers certainly have promise in the backcourt via sophomore guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson. More than likely, Huggins will go with returning junior Juwan Staten at the point.
What's scary, though, a day after Halloween, is the status of the Mountaineers' inside game. Holton was expected to be both the leading rebounder and scorer. The sculpted Macon was expected to provide a rugged, athletic presence inside.
If both of those guys are out, the most daunting inside figure appears to be 6-10, 255-pound Kevin Noreen. And although an intelligent hard worker, Noreen isn't very daunting.
"We have five [frontcourt players]," Huggins countered. "We have Kevin, Devin, Nate [Adrian], Watkins and Dibo."