With a record of 0-8 against the RPI top 50 and only one RPI top 100 win to their credit, the Mountaineers don’t have the resume of an NCAA Tournament contender at the start of February. But Huggins said that can still change.
“I mean, we keep telling them we can still make a run. We can still make a run and conceivably get ourselves on the bubble, anyway. Or better,” he said.
Asked later if the WVU program would accept a bid to a lower-level postseason tournament -- the NIT, CBI or CIT -- if the program failed to make such a rally, Huggins was noncommittal and again emphasized that it’s too early to count West Virginia out of the NCAA Tournament mix.
“In all honesty, I don’t think anybody wants to talk about that yet,” said Huggins, who has only had one team miss the NCAA Tournament since the 1990-91 season, his second year at Cincinnati. “They set out [at the start of] the season saying they want to play in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
“I think everybody wants to believe they’ve got some hope. I don’t think that’s a hard sell.”
If WVU is to make such a run, it will have to start building on its resume immediately, beginning with Saturday’s game at Texas Tech. That game is the start of a five-game stretch against teams from the state of Texas, and only one of those opponents (Baylor) has a conference record better than the Mountaineers’ current 2-5 mark.
“We’re at the position to where we’ve got to win more than those,” Huggins said. “That would be a great start. But we’re in a position that we’ve got to win more than that.”
Huggins said he does not expect guard Matt Humphrey to be available for Saturday’s game, as the Boston College transfer continues to deal with swelling and inflammation in his left shoulder. Humphrey did not practice Thursday, according to the head coach.
Freshman guard Terry Henderson, who missed road games at Iowa State and Purdue in mid-January, still is not 100 percent, Huggins said. Henderson has been dealing with back problems.
As for Saturday’s opponent, the Red Raiders of Texas Tech, Huggins pointed to two keys to watch -- the offensive efficiency of their three big men, who all shoot better than 50 percent from the field, and their variable defenses.
“When people say we play multiple defenses, they really play multiple defenses,” Huggins said. “They’ll play a straight man. They’ll play a man where they switch everything. They’re going to play triangle-and-two. They’ve played some box-and-one, played some 1-2-2, played some 2-2-1.
“I think when they find something that works, they kind of stick with it. But it’s kind of like most teams -- some guys are better pressing than they are playing half-court. Some guys you can maybe hide in a zone that you can’t hide otherwise.”
Asked if he will be paying attention to the football field on Super Bowl Sunday, Huggins said he considers Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh a friend dating back to when both worked in Cincinnati.
A former quarterback and wide receiver in his own playing days, Huggins said he largely stuck with basketball because of his dad Charlie, a legendary high school hoops coach in Ohio.
Given the personality of his basketball teams, it may not come as a surprise that Huggins tends to prefer football teams that play tough defense.
“I think defensively, all games come down to you’ve got to get to the ball. Whether it’s basketball or football or baseball ... it’s hard to get it if you don’t get to it. Even tennis. Everything is about getting to the ball, and I really enjoy watching people play who have defenses who get to the ball. Obviously those two teams [in the Super Bowl] do that.”