MORGANTOWN - This season started the same way as the last one ended for Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers with a lopsided loss to Gonzaga in which Huggins couldn't stop using the word embarrassing.
West Virginia, which was beaten 77-54 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh in March, turned around and began the season with an 84-50 setback to the 19th-ranked Zags.
''It's embarrassing,'' Huggins said. ''I care way too much about this university, the program and the state for this to happen. It's my job to fix it and I've got to fix it."
That's something he does like few others. Not only has Huggins taken each of his first five West Virginia teams to the NCAA Tournament, including the Final Four in 2010, he's been there 20 times in his career, a claim only four other active coaches can make.
Huggins carried the tournament loss to the Gonzaga with him all summer, as it was one of the worst losses any of his teams had ever been dealt in the Big Dance.
First, Huggins explained why he wanted to open with a team like Gonzaga, which has become one of college basketball's elite, rather than a few patsies that might help everyone's confidence.
''In 2002 (while at Cincinnati), we played Oklahoma State," Huggins said. ''We lost by nine or 11 but it seemed like 106. We had some soul-searching. Some guys questioned some guys' fortitude, and I questioned a lot of guys' fortitude. Then we went on to win 21 games in a row, but we knew what we had to fix.
''Sometimes (playing a soft early schedule) is OK because you get your confidence, but a lot of times you don't. You just mask what your problems are."
Entering the season, Huggins had won 710 career games, so he's proven he can fix all different types of teams.
This year, he's trying to do it, primarily with transfers from four-year schools, as both Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones, the Big East's leader in scoring and rebounding a season ago, graduated, plus a few others left for different basketball-playing destinations.
Three different players - junior center Aaric Murray, sophomore point guard Juwan Staten, and senior guard Matt Humphrey - have come aboard as transfers to join seven returning lettermen, two true freshmen, and a sophomore from the Ukraine.
It's a different approach, but Huggins will try anything to win.
''Most of the time when you bring in young guys on an old team, they never play," Huggins said. ''You would think (the advantage) with the older guys is their maturity level. (But) some guys never grow up."
Murray, a 6-foot-10, 250-pounder, comes over from LaSalle to join senior Deniz Kilicli (6-9, 260), sophomores Kevin Noreen (6-10, 250), Volodymyr Gerun (6-10, 240) and Keaton Miles (6-6, 205), and senior Dom Rutledge (6-8, 245) to form a formidable front line for the Mountaineers, something they've lacked on the whole since Huggins returned to coach his alma mater in 2007
''Size isn't any good unless you rebound the ball, get out in transition, finish around the goal, and catch the ball," Huggins said.
In the backcourt, sophomores Jabarie Hinds (5-11, 180), Gary Browne (6-1, 195), Dayton transfer Staten (6-1, 195) and Aaron Brown (6-5, 220) join Boston College transfer Matt Humphrey (6-5, 195), redshirt freshman Aric Dickerson (6-5, 195), and true freshmen Eron Harris (6-2, 170), and Terry Henderson (6-3, 170).
Though Murray led LaSalle in scoring (15.2 points per game, including a career high 28), rebounding (7.7) and blocks (2.3) during the 2010-11 season, WVU's leading returning scorer and rebounder is Kilicli, who averaged 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Kilicli is a load around the basket and is armed with an array of moves, but he has been unable to live up to the billing Huggins gave him when he was a freshman as an all-league type of player.
Staten started 34 games as a freshman at Dayton, where he averaged 5.4, 29 minutes, and 8.5 points per game on a team that won 22 games. He was a member of the Atlantic 10 all-rookie team and and earned the league's Rookie of the Week honor three times. His career high in points is 17 and assists is 10.
Staten was held scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting with one assist in his Mountaineers debut against Gonzaga.
''I just do what the defense allows me to do," Staten said of his still-new-to-WVU-fans' game. ''If (the defense) leaves people open, I want to hit people that are open. If they leave me open, I'm going to take it whether it's going to the basket or hitting a jumpshot."
Humphrey transferred for the third time in his career, as he previously played at Oregon from 2008-10 and Boston College from 2010-12. Eligible to compete right away as a fifth-year, degree-holding senior, Humphrey started 29 games last season at BC, where he was the team's second-leading scorer at 10.3 points per game and leader in minutes (30.3) and steals (3.4) per game. Known as a shooter, Humphrey made 55 3-point field goals last season, and his career high is 18 points in a game.
Hinds returns after a true freshman season in which he started all 33 games and averaged 29 minutes, 7.4 points, including a season-best 19 against against Akron, and 3.3 assists.
Miles started 30 of 32 games as a true freshman, though he was never around long and averaged fewer than two points and two rebounds per game.
Noreen has yet to see a season end during his Mountaineers career in which he isn't sidelined with an injury, having torn up a knee and an ankle, respectively, during his first two years. Minnesota's Mr. Basketball in 2010 hasn't put up a lot of stats, but Huggins likes the way the offense flows with Noreen in the game.
In two years, he's participated in 30 games and scored 69 points.
Rutledge, a junior college transfer last season from West Texas, was at his best after seeing extended playing time after Noreen's January injury. By the time it was said and done, he was pulling down a career-best 11 rebounds in the Big East Tournament against Connecticut, then leading the Mountaineers in boards in the NCAA Tournament game against the Zags.
Browne averaged 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds, while Brown had 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game last season as they both struggled to find consistency in their first years.
Gerun, who will sit out the first six games of the season as a penalty for playing in a professional league in the Ukraine, led his 18U team with 18.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Those numbers might one day transfer, but first he'll have to get more accustomed to the American style of play.
Dickerson walked on last season and redshirted. Harris averaged 14 points per game as a high school senior in Indianapolis, while Henderson averaged 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists, while scoring more than 3,300 career points during his prep days in North Carolina.
In all of that, Huggins still doesn't know what he's got. But he knows what he will have.
''I want us to be better than we were last year," Huggins said. ''I really thought we could get 10-11 guys who play really, really hard, or we could keep seven guys in and just wear people down. I just don't know that we have that many people."
Nov. 12: at GonzagaL, 84-50
Nov. 23: Vanderbilt/DavidsonTBA
Nov. 25: TBDTBA
Nov. 29: VMITBA
Dec. 5: Marshall7:30 p.m.
Dec. 8: Virginia Tech4 p.m.
Dec. 11: at DuquesneTBA
Dec. 15: Michigan8 p.m.
Dec. 19: OaklandTBA
Dec. 22: RadfordTBA
Dec. 30: Eastern KentuckyTBA
Jan. 5: Oklahoma4 p.m.
Jan. 9: at Texas9 p.m.
Jan. 12: Kansas State1:30 p.m.
Jan. 16: at Iowa State9 p.m.
Jan. 19: at Purdue2 p.m.
Jan. 23: TCU7:30 p.m.
Jan. 26: at Oklahoma State1 p.m.
Jan. 28: Kansas9 p.m.
Feb. 2: at Texas Tech4 p.m.
Feb. 4: Texas9 p.m.
Feb. 9: at TCU4 p.m.
Feb. 13: at Baylor9 p.m.
Feb. 16: Texas Tech4 p.m.
Feb. 18: at Kansas State9 p.m.
Feb. 23: Oklahoma State2 p.m.
Feb. 27: Baylor8 p.m.
March 2: at Kansas2 p.m.
March 6: at Oklahoma9 p.m.
March 9: Iowa State1:30 p.m.
March13-16: Big 12 TourneyTBA