Inside College Hoops: Can Buddy Hield handle Bob Huggins’ ‘Press Virginia?’

There are a handful of current college coaches who aren’t yet in the Naismith Hall of Fame but should be someday — guys like, I don’t know, Tom Izzo, Bill Self and Lon Kruger.

And Bob Huggins is also definitely in that handful.

He’s won 780 games, made the NCAA Tournament in 20 of the past 23 seasons he’s coached, and led two different schools — first Cincinnati, then West Virginia — to the Final Four. And, it should be noted, most believe Huggins would’ve guided the Bearcats to the national championship in 2000 if Kenyon Martin would not have suffered a broken leg in the Conference USA Tournament at The Pyramid in Memphis. So that’s always a sidenote.

(The Pyramid, by the way, is now a Bass Pro Shops. So that’s kinda wild, right?)

Beyond that, Huggins has completely changed his approach in the sense that his team now presses and creates turnovers more often than literally any other team in the country. And, simply put, that’s the sign of a great coach — when a man can successfully evolve in his 60s. So put me down as somebody who genuinely believes Huggins already has a Hall of Fame resume, and he has a unique opportunity to add to that resume this weekend.

West Virginia, as you probably know, beat No. 1 Kansas on Tuesday.

Now the 11th-ranked Mountaineers are playing No. 2 Oklahoma on Saturday.

If they win, they’ll be the first team to defeat the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 schools in consecutive regular-season games since Kansas did it in 1989. Also, if they win, they’ll be 16-1 with victories over Kansas and Oklahoma and a lone loss to Virginia, meaning West Virginia would then have a reasonable case to be the new No. 1 when the polls update.

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BEST GAME OF THE WEEKEND: Yeah, West Virginia-Oklahoma belongs here because I can’t wait to see how Buddy Hield handles Press Virginia. The Mountaineers are forcing their opponents into a turnover on 28.3 percent of possessions, and Hield is averaging 3.1 turnovers in 33.7 minutes per game after committing 10 — 10! — turnovers in Wednesday’s win at Oklahoma State. That’s not very National Player of the Year-ish. So Hield needs to be better to ensure the Sooners finish a nice week and rise to No. 1 Monday.

NEXT BEST GAME OF THE WEEKEND: Brad Brownell has missed the NCAA Tournament four straight seasons at Clemson, which has led to some questions about the direction of his program. But nobody is on a nicer streak these days. And did you realize Brownell just topped three schools with Hall of Fame coaches in a row, and that he just led the Tigers to back-to-back wins over ranked schools for the first time since 1989? It’s all true. And, on Saturday, Brownell will extend that streak to three consecutive wins over nationally ranked schools if Clemson beats No. 8 Miami just like it beat No. 21 Louisville and No. 9 Duke.

NEXT-NEXT BEST GAME OF THE WEEKEND: If Xavier or Providence (or somebody else) is going to snap Villanova’s streak of two straight Big East titles, they’re likely going to need some help, meaning it probably won’t happen unless somebody else in the league deals the sixth-ranked Wildcats a loss or two somewhere. So, rest assured, those schools will be rooting for Georgetown Saturday when the Hoyas host Villanova and try to make it where everybody in the Big East has at least one league loss.

FUN GAME BETWEEN UNRANKED TEAMS: Steve Forbes got the East Tennessee State job in late March and immediately started using his connections, developed over decades as an assistant, to remake the Buccaneers’ roster, and now look. ETSU has a win at Georgia Tech that preceded its 4-0 start in the Southern Conference, and three of its top four scorers are first-year players Forbes enrolled — specifically Cincinnati transfer Ge’Lawn Guyn, Missouri transfer Deuce Bello and JUCO transfer T.J. Cromer. The Bucs play preseason Southern Conference favorite Chattanooga on Saturday. A win would give ETSU a two-game lead over Chattanooga in the league standings.

ONE PLAYER TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Just 16 days after suffering a concussion during a collision at the rim that left him lying still on Villanova’s court before being carried out on a stretcher, Xavier freshman Edmond Sumner will return Saturday for the seventh-ranked Musketeers’ game at Marquette. Sumner is averaging 11.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Xavier lost that game at Villanova, in which Sumner was injured. But the Wildcats went 3-0 in subsequent games with wins over Butler, St. John’s and DePaul.

LOCK OF THE WEEKEND: Missouri is 0-3 in true road games with three double-digit losses to Xavier, Arizona and Georgia that’ve come by an average of 22 points. And now the Tigers, who are coming off of a 33-point home loss to Arkansas, are headed to 19th-ranked South Carolina, where the Gamecocks should be motivated to show their midweek loss at Alabama was more fluky than a sign of a team on the verge of being exposed. So lay the points with South Carolina and let Frank Martin help you #GetPaper.

FIVE THINGS WORTH NOTING

1. If Oklahoma loses to West Virginia, which isn’t out of the question, it’s possible No. 5 North Carolina could rise all the way to No. 1 depending, of course, on how voters would then treat West Virginia and Kansas. UNC, of course, was No. 1 in the preseason. The Tar Heels host North Carolina State on Saturday.

2. This might surprise some people. But KenPom now projects No. 15 Texas A&M to win the SEC … and by two games. The Aggies are 14-2 with five top-50 KenPom victories. They play at Georgia on Saturday, then return home for games against LSU and Missouri.

3. Duke has a chance on Saturday to get its third top-50 KenPom win when Notre Dame visits Cameron. The ninth-ranked Blue Devils previously beat Indiana (No. 25 at KenPom) and VCU (No. 33 at KenPom). They’re coming off a loss at Clemson (No. 75 at KenPom.)

4. Life is difficult in the Big 12, regardless. But it’s especially difficult for teams in the bottom quarter of the league like Oklahoma State and TCU. The Cowboys’ past three games have been against No. 22 Baylor, No. 11 West Virginia and No. 2 Oklahoma, and their next game is Saturday at Texas, where No. 5 North Carolina and No. 17 Iowa State have already lost. Meantime, two of TCU’s past three games were against No. 11 West Virginia and No. 22 Baylor, and the Horned Frogs’ next game is Saturday at No. 1 Kansas. Good luck.

5. Virginia will be favored, and thus will likely win, Sunday at Florida State. But it should be noted that the 13th-ranked Cavaliers are 1-3 in true road games with losses to unranked George Washington, unranked Virginia Tech and unranked Georgia Tech. So I know you’ll probably be consumed with Steelers-Broncos. But keep Virginia-FSU on your radar because the result could drop the two-time reigning ACC champs to 2-3 in the league.

FINAL THOUGHT: The great thing about inheriting a top-10 team is that, well, you inherit a top-10 team, and that’s awesome. But the bad thing is that expectations are sky-high right from the start, and nobody understands this better than Iowa State’s Steve Prohm.

The Cyclones were ranked seventh in the preseason.

Now they’re 17th and slipping thanks to three losses in their past four games, and a crucial two-game stretch is on tap. First up is Saturday’s game at Kansas State. Then it’s Monday’s game at Hilton against Oklahoma. Iowa State will likely be underdogs in both, meaning a 1-5 start in the Big 12 is realistic. And this is no way to replace The Mayor.

Before you ask, yes, Steve Prohm is a good and capable coach.

And his team isn’t as bad as its 1-3 Big 12 record might suggest.

But none of that will matter much to fans if that 1-3 Big 12 record becomes a 1-5 Big 12 record late Monday. So nobody in college basketball has a bigger next three days than Prohm. He needs a sweep to restore faith. Or at least a split to keep folks calm. Because anything less will create a meltdown … all while in-state rival Iowa is rolling.

Bob Huggins (USATSI)
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has the Mountaineers off to a 15-1 start. (USATSI)

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