COLUMBUS, Ohio (CBSNewYork/AP) — West Virginia’s Bob Huggins is back home in Ohio. Buffalo’s Bobby Hurley is back in the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament.
Huggins and his Mountaineers meet the former Duke star’s Bulls on Friday in the round of 64 in Columbus.
Just don’t expect Huggins, with 763 wins in 33 seasons as a head coach — mostly in his home state at Akron and Cincinnati — to get misty-eyed over a return to the Buckeye state.
“I’m not very nostalgic,” he said. Then he told a story about a family friend in his small village in Eastern Ohio giving him rides to play basketball as a kid. One time he pointed out to “Phil,” the driver of the pickup, that he didn’t have a rearview mirror.
“He said, ‘Boy, we’re not going backwards,'” Huggins said with a wry smile. “That’s kind of how I’ve lived my life. I don’t look backwards. I don’t have a rearview mirror. I just look forward.”
Hurley has taken Buffalo to its first NCAA Tournament in his second year at the helm. He was the prototypical fiery point guard who guided the Blue Devils to titles in 1991 and 1992. He’ll wear a ring from that latest championship when his team plays at Nationwide Arena.
“I know what it feels like, the excitement, the memories that you take from playing in this tournament,” the Jersey City native said. “I’m glad that my players get to enjoy that and experience it.”
Here are five things to watch when the ‘Neers and Bulls square off:
INJURY LIST: Both teams have key players recovering from injuries.
West Virginia hasn’t had starting point guard and leading scorer Juwan Staten for the last four games because of a knee injury and also was without fellow senior Gary Browne the last three games with a sprained ankle.
Both should be full go by game time.
Justin Moss, the Mid-American Conference player of the year, has been hampered with an ankle injury but Hurley termed him “close to 100 percent” for the NCAAs.
BULLS VS. HEAVYWEIGHTS: Buffalo had played on even terms on the road with Kentucky — the landslide favorite in this year’s tournament — and also with another top seed, Wisconsin. The Bulls led each at halftime before falling to the mighty Wildcats 71-52 on Nov. 16 and 68-56 to the then-No. 6 Badgers on Dec. 28.
After you’ve gone toe-to-toe with powerhouses like that, even West Virginia’s vaunted physicality and defensive pressure seems manageable.
“We played Kentucky; that’s the best you can get,” second-leading scorer (15.4 ppg) Shannon Evans said. “That press that Kentucky has is just as good as West Virginia has, if not better.”
LEANING ON THE VET: Browne was a freshman when the Mountaineers last made it to the big dance in 2012, a 77-54 loss to Gonzaga in their first game.
He’s been preaching to his younger teammates not to take such a career highlight for granted. The seniors three years ago were upset with the defeat, but Browne couldn’t help himself.
“I was happy I made it because it was the biggest accomplishment,” he said. “I was just a freshman. I thought we were going to make it the next three years. But look at now; we didn’t make it the last two years.”
Browne tells the youngsters to seize the moment.
“I try to make sure to tell the guys to enjoy it but at the same time you want to take advantage of it because you don’t know the next time you’re going to be here,” he said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Buffalo’s Xavier Ford was asked about playing Kentucky: “Have you seen Space Jam? It’s like playing against the Monstars.”
NO CHANGE OF PACE: Both teams like to get out and run. Both like to press. Both love scoring in transition.
So everybody should be happy with a fast-paced, mile-a-minute tempo.
“We want to speed the game up, but they excel in transition,” Staten said.
Hurley returned the favor to the Mountaineers.
“They don’t stop. They keep coming at you for 40 minutes,” he said. “They’ve been in a great league and they’ve made some really good teams in that league look average this year. So we have our work cut out for us.”
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