Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 5/7/12
CANTON, Ohio - Bob Huggins insists moving from the Big East to the Big 12 won't change much for his West Virginia basketball team. There will be at least a few new faces next season as Kevin Jones is headed to the NBA, and two highly-regarded transfers will become eligible after sitting out last year to NCAA rules. But the biggest change might be in the frequent-flyer miles the Mountaineers rack up. A whole lot of them. Gone -- for now, anyway -- is the Mountaineers' backyard rivalry with Pitt, a game that's been played every year since 1913. Gone, too, are longtime series with recognizable -- and driveable -- foes like Syracuse, Villanova, Cincinnati and Georgetown. Huggins said his team's Closest geographic rival in the Big 12 "is 863 air miles away" at Iowa State. "The hard thing is they each come to us once, but we make those long trips nine times," Huggins said. "There's a time-zone change involved. We'll have to get used to it. "With what's happened with television, it overrides everything. That's the way it is." Huggins spoke Monday at the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club in Canton, Ohio, not far from where he played his high school basketball at Indian Valley South and just down the road from Walsh University. It was Walsh College when Huggins started his head-coaching career there in 1980. He's been the head coach at Akron, Cincinnati and Kansas State since, and he's been the coach at West Virginia -- his alma mater -- since 2007. His one previous year in the Big 12 gives him some knowledge of what he called "a faster-paced game in the Big 12," but he doesn't expect a lot else to be different. "Five of the 10 coaches in the Big 12 have been to the Final Four," Huggins said. "We just left a league that had two Hall of Famers, another nominated to the Hall of Fame and another who someday is going to be a Hall of Famer. We've always played great teams, great coaches. "Kansas will be really good. Texas will be really good. Baylor was in the Elite Eight, and Kansas State has virtually everybody back. When you look at what Freddy (Hoiberg) has been doing at Iowa State, and Lon Kruger at Oklahoma has won everywhere he's ever been and he'll win there, too. Travis Ford at Oklahoma State and has won a lot of games." Huggins has been winning a lot of games at West Virginia. A 19-win season with a young team last year ended with a blowout loss to West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and ended a streak of six consecutive 20-win seasons for the Mountaineers. Getting back to that 20-win plateau won't be easy, and it might start with the team that ended the Mountaineers' 2011-12 season. Though the deal has not been finalized, Huggins said West Virginia and Gonzaga are working on a home-and-home series that would potentially start in Morgantown this November in the season opener for both teams. Huggins said the Mountaineers' non-conference schedule will also include a previously announced December game vs. Michigan at the new Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, a home game with Virginia Tech and a road game at Purdue in addition to a "made for TV" event on a neutral floor that will see the Mountaineers play three games in three days against three yet to be determined non-conference opponents. "It's a brutal schedule," he said. The Mountaineers had eight freshmen on the roster last year. The top two scorers (Jones and Darryl "Truck" Bryant) are gone, but Huggins praised Dayton transfer Juwan Staten for his improvement over the last year and said big-man LaSalle transfer Aaric Murray "might play in the NBA someday." Both are eligible to play next season. The charter flights will be the same, they'll just be longer. The standards will be high, and Huggins will still be colorful and demanding. He said his players will have to be mentally tough against that brutal schedule, and whatever else might be different in the Big 12 remains to be seen. "The Big 12, to me, has the best home-court advantages of any conference in the country," Huggins said. "They have better student involvement. People show up. It's going to be loud everywhere we go. "In a lot of the Big East you have off-campus situations, NBA arenas, and you don't always have the loud student environments you have in the Big 12. It's going to be interesting."
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