Bob Huggins is one of college basketball’s lighting rods: people either love or hate the outspoken coach.
His supporters admire the way he has won at every stop of his career from Walsh of the NAIA to Akron to Cincinnati to Kansas State and now in his first season at his alma mater, West Virginia.
His detractors talk about him being bombastic and point to his low graduation rates and the legal trouble his players at Cincinnati always seemed to get into.
Count Xavier coach Sean Miller in the Huggins camp, though. He has known Huggins since he was a little boy and would tag along with his father, John, a legendary high school coach in Pennsylvania, to various summer camps.
“I think the first time I met Bob was when he was a graduate assistant coach at Ohio State, just starting out,” Miller said. “My dad was a coach and his father was a basketball coach, too. There is always that bond among kids of coaches. We realize how demanding the game can be on a coach and you automatically develop a mutual respect for each other.
“I like Bob Huggins a lot. He’s the type of person who does what he says he is going to do. I like people like that and I have great respect for him.”
Miller and Huggins will square off in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night as Xavier and West Virginia meet in a West Region semifinal in Phoenix.
“West Virginia has a great team and you know they have the coaching advantage in this one,” Miller said. “Bob Huggins has been coaching 35 years. I’ve only been a head coach for four.”
That may be the case, but Xavier is considered the favorite as the Musketeers are the No. 3 seed in the region while the Mountaineers are seeded seventh.
Xavier has compiled a 29-6 record despite not having any stars, even famously having no one on the all-Atlantic 10 first team. However, the Musketeers boast the most balanced offense in the nation as no other team has six players with scoring averages of 9.8 or better: senior forward Josh Duncan (12.1), senior guard Drew Lavender (11.0), sophomore forward Derrick Brown (10.9), senior guard C.J. Anderson (10.7), junior guard B.J. Raymond (10.1) and senior guard Stanley Burrell (9.8).
Xavier had three players among the top 100 in offensive rating in Raymond (122.7, 44th), Duncan (112.3, 47th) and Lavender (199.2, 97th). Brown is 45th with an effective field goal percentage of 61.3.
“It’s not like I aspire to have a team where everyone basically has the same scoring average, it’s just worked out that way because we’re blessed to have six or seven kids who can really score,” Miller said. “It’s an advantage for us. We’re a hard team to defend because anybody on the court is capable of scoring at any time.”
However, the lack of big numbers has made Xavier an anonymous bunch. The Musketeers have been touting Burrell for All-America honors but it is hard to imagine him garnering many votes with a scoring average in single digits.
Burrell averaged 12.7 points as a freshman and 14.4 as a sophomore but that figure dipped to 12.4 last season and even lower this season because he has been asked to become a defensive stopper.
“Not a lot of kids would give up being a scorer to concentrate on defense but that’s the type of kid Stan is,” Miller said. “We’ve been very fortunate in that regard. He has put the team in front of his own personal interests and that’s the mark of a true leader. When the rest of our guys see that, they can’t help but also think team first.”
Miller will need Burrell and his teammates to play strong defense against a West Virginia team that knocked off second-seed Duke in the second round last Saturday and features junior forward Joe Alexander (16.8 points a game), junior forward Alex Ruoff (13.8), sophomore forward Da’Sean Butler (12.9) and senior guard Darris Nichols (10.8).
“Alexander has been getting the attention because he’s been so hot and the beauty of this time of year is someone like that always seems to step up,” Miller said, referring to Alexander averaging 24.6 points in the last eight games. “But they have so many other weapons. Ruoff is a great shooter. Butler knows how to score. Nichols has played in so many big games in his career.
“We’re going to have to play as well as we have all year if we’re going to advance beyond this round.”
All Eyes on Curry
Basketball aficionados already knew about Davidson sophomore guard Stephen Curry. Now, casual fans who only tune in at tournament time are learning about him.
No one has raised his profile more in the last week as Curry scored 40 points in the Wildcats’ 82-76 win over Gonzaga in the first round, then had 30 in the 74-70 stunner over Georgetown in the second round.
Curry is averaging 25.7 points a game this season, the fourth-highest total in the nation. He also ranks among the top 100 in percentage of shots (35.2, 12th), percentage of possessions (31.3, 18th), effective field goal percentage (60.9, 54th) and offensive rating (120.2, 82nd).
Davidson (28-6) puts its 24-game winning streak on the line Friday night when it meets Wisconsin (31-4), which leads the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency at 81.1, in the Midwest Regional in Detroit.
“He’s gotten some hype in the media and he’s definitely as good as they say,” Georgetown senior forward Patrick Ewing Jr. said. “We tried everything we could do to stop him and nothing worked.”
“He’s very active,” Hoyas guard Jonathan Wallace said. “He knows how to set himself up to get opportunities for shots. He’s a heck of a player. We didn’t have an answer for him.”
Georgetown coach John Thompson III, though, thinks Davidson senior point guard Jason Richards has gotten overlooked. Richards is averaging 12.9 points and 8.0 assists a game.
“It’s fun to watch him play just because of the way he controls the game, the way he manages the game,” Thompson said. “He has the ball in his hands the whole time and he doesn’t make a bad decision. It just isn’t a matter of him getting the ball to Curry. He knows how to get the ball to everybody and also when he should shoot.”
Brady Bounces Back
It was just two years ago that John Brady led Louisiana State to the Final Four. Now, he is in a much lower-profile position, having been hired at Arkansas State after being fired by LSU in February following an 8-13 start.
However, Brady says he doesn’t mind taking a step down after 10 years in the Southeastern Conference.
“I think there is an opportunity to win here and win in the Sun Belt Conference,” Brady told the Jonesboro Sun. “I think there is an opportunity with the recruiting base here to get the kinds of kids that can do that in this league. Hopefully, I can hire the kinds of (assistant) coaches who can identify talent and maybe steal a recruit or two. Then, it’s about building relationships and building credibility within those relationships.”
Brady wasn’t the only high-profile person to have interest in the Arkansas State job. Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson also interviewed along with former Mississippi and Arizona State coach Rob Evans, now an assistant with the Razorbacks, and Kentucky assistant Jeremy Cox.
Arkansas State went 10-20 this past season and has been to the NCAA Tournament just once, in 1998-99.
Team to Watch
This week’s Team to Watch is Villanova (22-12), which barely squeaked into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team then promptly dispatched Clemson and Siena in the first two rounds to set up a meeting with top-seeded Kansas (33-3) on Friday in the other Midwest Region semifinal.
Villanova is a no-frills team as it ranks 61st in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (110.4) and 36th in adjusted defensive efficiency (91.9) but not among the top 50 in any other category.
Sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds is one of just two Wildcats scoring in double figures as he is averaging 16.0 points and 3.3 assists a game. Junior forward Donte Cunningham has averages of 10.4 points and 6.4 assists.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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