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For the second straight year, a major winter storm has scrambled West Virginia’s travel plans for the NCAA Tournament.
About 20 hours after arriving back on campus from the West Coast, the Mountaineers left Tuesday to begin preparations for Friday’s Sweet 16 appearance in Boston against old Big East foe Villanova.
The Mountaineers had returned to Morgantown, West Virginia, on Monday night from a 2,500-mile trip to San Diego, only to find out a few hours later they’d be leaving a day early for the regional semifinals. The storm was already churning through West Virginia and was heading toward New England, where up to a foot of snow was expected. It’s the fourth nor’easter in three weeks set to smack the East Coast.
For good measure, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins threw in an early morning practice Tuesday before leaving.
“It’s been tough,” Huggins said. “It would have been nice to be able to stay in town for another day.”
The storm isn’t causing other teams in the East Regional much consternation. Purdue moved up its scheduled departure time by six hours to Wednesday morning. Villanova and Texas Tech’s haven’t changed their travel plans to Boston.
The fifth-seeded Mountaineers (26-10) and top-seeded Villanova (32-4) meet Friday night at TD Garden, followed by second-seeded Purdue (30-6) against third-seeded Texas Tech (26-9). A win would give Huggins his fifth berth in the regional finals.
West Virginia also saw tournament weather challenges in the NCAA Tournament last March when the Mountaineers left a day early on a bus for a four-hour trip to Buffalo, New York, ahead of a snowstorm rather than risk flight delays. They won twice and advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to Gonzaga.
West Virginia’s travel issues are well documented in the Big 12 with trips of 1,000 miles or more every year to play Texas, Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The shortest trip is 870 miles to play Iowa State.
“You look at it one of two ways — either we’re prepared because we do travel more than virtually every team in the country, or we’re going to be worn out,” Huggins said. “So hopefully it’s not we’re worn out.”
One player Huggins won’t have to worry about is senior guard Jevon Carter, who is known for his focus and work ethic and wants to get the Mountaineers back to the Final Four for the first time since 2010.
Carter typically is the first player working on his jumper and free throws two hours before games. And when Huggins showed up 45 minutes before the start of Tuesday’s practice, Carter was already on the court.
“He had been in there already for who knows how long getting shots up,” Huggins said.