“Honestly, I don’t want to diminish what they’re doing, but we do that all the time,” Huggins said on a teleconference with reporters Friday afternoon.
“Is that any better than going into Wichita, Kansas and 18,000 people there? I mean, we do it all the time. I think in a lot of ways, it may help our guys. We may play with more intensity for a greater period of time.”
A far greater concern for Huggins and WVU will likely be the Bulls’ stingy defense.
USF (19-11, 12-5) hasn’t allowed any opponent to score more than 56 points in a game since Georgetown managed 75 in a 30-point loss for the Bulls on Feb. 4. Not coincidentally, no opponent has shot better than 34.6 percent from the floor against coach Stan Heath’s squad in the same span.
“Inside the 3-point line, they’re just so long like we were a couple years age,” Huggins noted. “They put only one guy out there, and he’s, whatever, 6-5, 6-6 and long. They don’t take anything away outside the 3-point line, but inside the 3-point line ... it’s all hands and arms in there.
“They do a great job of contesting everything inside the 3, and they’re long enough that they put pressure on you outside the 3. I think their athleticism and length has been very instrumental in what they do. And they’re very solid. Stan has been very good with them. They don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
But like the promotional hype behind the game, Huggins downplayed the significance of USF’s defense on his team’s game plan.
“Not with all the terrific shooters we have,” the fifth-year coach said dryly. “Honest to God’s truth, we’re used to shooting it bad. I don’t think that will affect us much. We’re used to trying to manufacture points in other ways.”
In the lead up to what will be West Virginia’s final regular season game as a member of the Big East Conference, Huggins was asked what the conference has meant to him as a coach and to the program as a whole.
“Personally, I’ve enjoyed it,” he said.
But as for the impact on the Mountaineer program, Huggins deferred to longtime WVU coach Gale Catlett, who led the program through the transition from its membership in the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, where Catlett and company started play in 1995-96.
“Gale could articulate that better than I could,” Huggins said. “When I got here, we were already very well entrenched in the Big East, and it was kind of, ‘You know what to do.’”
Players were far more muted in their celebrations after Tuesday’s win over DePaul than they had been after beating arch-rival Pitt at the Petersen Events Center on Feb. 16.
West Virginia followed up that win over the Panthers with another pair of losses -- something the Mountaineers can ill-afford if they want to be assured of their place in the NCAA Tournament field come Selection Sunday.
The more businesslike attitude translated to Thursday’s practice, Huggins said. It was the first for his players since the DePaul game, as WVU took Wednesday off.
“We struggle at the offensive end at times, you know, with just basketball plays,” the head coach said. “I don’t know if that’s youth or just guys that have a lot to learn how to play this game the right way. But they were fine. I thought practice started and they had pretty good enthusiasm.”
After USF’s win over Louisville on Wednesday, Saturday’s game became another chance for West Virginia to earn a true quality win. The Bulls are No. 35 in CBSSports.com’s RPI calculations.
The Mountaineers currently only have one win over a team with a loftier RPI rating than that (Georgetown, currently No. 10). Their second-best win is against Oral Roberts (39), closely followed by Kansas State (41). Other than the Georgetown win, WVU’s best Big East win for RPI purposes came against Cincinnati (68).
A win over USF would push up West Virginia’s own slumping RPI. The Mountaineers fell to No. 56 after the DePaul win, thanks largely to the fact that the Blue Demons’ rating of No. 201 was the third-lowest of any WVU opponent this season.