Huggins Thinks WVU Is in NCAA Tourney

MORGANTOWN – Bob Huggins thinks the Mountaineers are in the NCAA Tournament, regardless of what happens at South Florida on Saturday or in next week’s Big East Tournament.

”I don’t know if we need any more (victories),” Huggins said Tuesday night. ”I think we’re in pretty good shape. I’d feel a whole lot better with a couple more.”

Nearly all of the experts who keep a finger on the pulse of these things agree, meaning strength of schedule – WVU is ninth in the country- weighs rather heavily. Get this, has West Virginia as an 11-seed in the East playing a first-round game against No. 3 Michigan and former coach John Beilein in Nashville, Tenn.

Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s resident expert on the subject, updated his brackets Wednesday to include 10 Big East teams. The Mountaineers are tied with Seton Hall for ninth in the league. Defending national champion UConn is 10th with a 7-10 league record.

Up next for WVU is a Bulls team that is a rather pedestrian 18-11 overall (one loss shy of WVU’s 18-12) but is fifth in the league and tied for second in the loss column with Marquette and Georgetown. And, South Florida is 14-1 at home this season and is battling for its own NCAA Tournament life.

”They’re playing for something as well as we are,” WVU forward Kevin Jones said. ”I think the hungrier team is going to win.”

Of the eight teams in front of it, WVU has beaten two of them (one in overtime and both at home), lost to five of them, and has yet to play one.

Still, Tuesday night’s dismantling of DePaul – a squad that is alone in last place in the conference with no chance of digging itself out – left the Mountaineers feeling pretty good about themselves.

Who’s to say they can’t make a run in the Big East Tournament and/or the NCAA Tournament?

”I think we’re capable,” Huggins said. ”I talked to (John Calipari Tuesday night). He said I watch your team Huggs, ‘you’re not that far from being good.’ Which is kinda what I said a week ago.”

From there, Huggins talked about a few of the near-misses – Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Baylor – and said they’ve had their chances to be among the nation’s elite.

However it plays out, it will begin, rather than end, Saturday.

”We’ve got to be hungry,” point guard Truck Bryant said. ”That’s a huge game for us. That’s a game we need to win. We will be ready to play.”

Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge

In case you missed it, Huggins has advanced to the finals of the Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge.

”I want to thank everyone who helped with this coaches’ challenge,” Huggins said. ”It’s really a neat deal and a neat thing to win” the East Region and advance to the Final Four.

The winner gets $100,000 for his charity. Huggins’ charity is the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Fund, and the funds will go directly to the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center in Morgantown.

”Our cancer center’s doing wonderful things,” Huggins said. ”We just need people to vote. We were third the last time I looked. Third gets you five grand. Second gets you five grand. So why would we be second or fourth or third? We might as well win it and get the hundred grand. It stays right here in West Virginia and stays right here in the cancer center. It’s a wonderful thing.”

The Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Fund, named in honor of Bob Huggins’ late mother who died of colon cancer in 2003, was started to aid in cancer research and to help families around the state of West Virginia dealing with cancer.

To vote, go to Fans can vote once a day and voting ends at 11:59 a.m. on Thursday, March 8. The winner will be announced on March 9.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: