Monday, January 05, 2009

Of Huskies, Huggy Bear and Ralph Furley

The Big East season turns one week old tonight, and already there have been four instances of ranked teams from the conference playing against each other (with tonight's Notre Dame-Georgetown matchup just the latest).

Tomorrow night marks the fifth, when UConn, who dropped to No. 5 in this week's poll, faces West Virginia, who enters the rankings for the first time this season at No. 25, at the always-tough WVU Coliseum. Those kinds of things happen – and will continue to happen – when your conference puts a record nine teams in the AP Top 25 this week.

"And I don't think all the good teams that can beat you are in the Top 25," Jim Calhoun pointed out. "That's how good the league is."

Look no further than St. John's win over No. 13 Notre Dame on Saturday.

"South Florida, if they can get a shot to go down (against Syracuse last week), who knows what happens?" WVU coach Bob Huggins pointed out. "I think it's going to be that way all year."

Ah, Huggy Bear. Quite the character. He met with the UConn media contingent a few minutes before his weekly radio show (at the same hotel where the Huskies are staying). Huggins was gracious enough to give us some time, but most of his answers amounted to little more than monosyllabic grunts. It almost seems he gets on the defensive for even the most softball of questions.

Examples:

Q: How long will Joe (Mazzulla) be out for?

BH: No idea.

Q: Will you do your best to pull Hasheem away from the basket?

BH: Just throw it in there and let him block 'em. We're gonna try. If it was that easy, everybody'd do it.

Q: With the league being so crazy, is there any more emphasis put on winning your home games?

BH: There always is, isn't it? I don't think that ever changes.

Q: Have you been able to adopt more of your style into the program?

BH: We don't change. We're doing the same thing we were doing a year ago.

In truth, Huggins has been able to deftly mix his own style of play with that of the style implemented by John Belein, who left for Michigan two years ago.

"To filter out what John Beilein has taught kids would be crazy," said Calhoun. "One thing Bob is not, he's not crazy. A little nuts, but not crazy."

I'll drink to that.

***UConn essentially made WVU forward Joe Alexander the No. 8 pick in last June's NBA Draft after he went for 32 and 34 points, respectively, in last year's two games. Alexander is a Milwaukee Buck now, but the Mountaineers have found plenty of other sources for offense.

"He torched us the last two times," Calhoun noted, "but they're a better, total team without Joe Alexander."

***The Huskies begin a stretch of three straight conference games on the road, only the third times they've ever done so under Calhoun. UConn went 2-1 in the prior two stretches. It really all comes down to defense, something the Huskies have worked hard at in practice over the past few days.

"You can definitely bring hard work, toughness and defense to a road game," said junior forward Jeff Adrien. "Your offense might not always be there, but if you bring those three things, you can get a 'W' on the road."

***Nate Miles, the top-notch recruit who was expelled from UConn in early October, was granted a continuance for counseling on Monday for his case stemming from a restraining-order violation. He is due back in Rockville Superior Court on Feb. 24. Miles was expelled after violating a restraining order taken out against him by a 19-year-old female UConn student. He is currently attending the College of Southern Idaho, a junior college.

***UConn's team hotel is located on Don Knotts Blvd. Gotta love that. Knotts, of Barney Fife, Incredible Mr. Limpett and Ralph Furley fame, was born and raised in Morgantown.


***Apparently, ESPN is going to take a brief pause in bombarding us with football coverage to televise UConn's Jan. 15 game with St. John's at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden. The game had been listed on UConn's schedule as either ESPN or espn2, but the network set the designations today.

(Is it me, or has ESPN morphed into the NFL Network? I mean, seriously, it seems the network can't stop talking about football – either pro or college – every waking second of the day. The No. 1 college hoops team in America gets upset Sunday night by Boston College, and today on SportsCenter, First Take, Around the Horn, etc., we get hours of talk about Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Donovan McNabb and a hard-hitting story on Antrel Rolle's "Dirty Bird" touchdown celebration. The most talk we get on Boston College is about how they're going to fire their coach for taking a job interview. Their football coach, of course. But I digress …)

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