West Virginia football to the Big 12 was a no-brainer.
West Virginia basketball to the Big 12? Brainer.
Big East hoops is a stout brand. Georgetown, Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Madison Square Garden. That's a lot to leave behind.
But West Virginia hoops coach Bob Huggins puts on a good front.
“I don't know that what you said is totally accurate,” Huggins said the other day when asked if he took one for the team in going willingly to the Big 12.
Huggins explained it this way.
* Big East instability. Pitt and Syracuse are headed for the ACC. At the time of West Virginia's departure, speculation had Rutgers and Connecticut headed for the ACC or even the Big Ten.
* Big 12 prowess. “Obviously, the Big East is very good,” Huggins said. “But I think the Big 12 is equally as good. Probably better top to bottom.”
And it's not like the Big 12 is void of marquee basketball names.
“I can't wait for Kansas to come here in basketball,” said West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck. “That's going to be a red-letter day in West Virginia.”
Missouri's departure left a basketball hole in the Big 12. West Virginia ably fills it. The Mountaineers have been to the NCAA Tournament all five seasons since Huggins returned to his alma mater, after one season at Kansas State. Huggins coached West Virginia to the 2010 Final Four.
Huggins is not Pollyannish about the Big 12. He admits to some downside.
First, the travel. In a sport that often has back-to-back road games and routinely has midweek games, West Virginia's travel demands are fierce.
The Mountaineers have nine major road trips, ranging in mileage from 870 miles (to Iowa State) to 1,465 miles (Texas Tech). “We gotta do it nine times,” Huggins said. “They gotta come back this way once.”
And it's not like the ruggedness ends once you reach the arena. Huggins said the Big 12 has “probably as good a homecourt advantage as any league in America.”
Huggins also admits he will miss the Big East Tournament, which the Mountaineers won in 2010.
“Let's be honest,” Huggins said. “I don't think you can replicate that. How can you replicate New York City? There's only one New York City.
“Kansas City's a great venue (for the Big 12 Tournament). People there are fantastic. People there are great sports people, great basketball people.”
Huggins talks glowingly of his one season at K-State. KSU revived Huggins' career after he was convicted of drunken driving and was forced out at the University of Cincinnati in 2005.
“I loved it,” Huggins said. “I would never have left Kansas State for a place other than here.”
The difference is, Huggins' family is back in West Virginia. He has four sisters, two brothers and a father able to attend most games. So Huggins left the Big 12. And now he's back.
Back because of football, which drives all realignment, but that doesn't mean Mountaineer basketball has to suffer.
“I think there's a lot of excitement,” Huggins said. “We've got a heck of a football program, which has played for a couple of national championships. So that's important to us. But honestly, I don't feel like we're taking a step backward in basketball.”
The Big 12 would not have been West Virginia basketball's choice. But sounds like the Mountaineers are making the best of it.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Berry Tramel's six-part series on the Big 12's newcomers:
— West Virginia pride
— West Virginia football
— West Virginia basketball
— TCU pride
— TCU basketball
— TCU football