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Atlanta notebook: Survival of the fittest

Atlanta notebook: Survival of the fittest
By Ken Davis, Special to Yahoo! Sports
March 21, 2006

More notebooks: Atlanta | Oakland | Washington, D.C. | Minneapolis

Regular-season highlights: Duke | Texas | LSU | West Virginia

The West Virginia coaching staff could operate a side business this week by publishing scouting reports on Sweet 16 teams. It's not likely, but John Beilein's staff has the necessary background.

The Mountaineers played one of the top 30 schedules in the country and the degree of difficulty is even more obvious now that the NCAA tournament has been trimmed to 16 teams. West Virginia played six of the other 15 teams that are still alive, including the Mountaineers' opponent Thursday in the semifinals of the Atlanta Region – the Texas Longhorns.

Texas defeated West Virginia 76-75 in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic on Nov. 21 in Kansas City, Mo. That game will be replayed in the minds of both the Longhorns and the Mountaineers this week as tip-off of the rematch approaches.

Earlier in the season, Beilein was criticized for playing a non-conference schedule that also included Kentucky, LSU, Oklahoma and UCLA. If those names sound familiar, check out the brackets for the Sweet 16. There's a lot of duplication. Add in the unbalanced Big East Conference schedule and the Mountaineers also had two games against Georgetown, three against Pittsburgh (including a loss in the Big East tournament) and a game against Connecticut.

"As it turns out, thank goodness we did do that," Beilein said Monday of the loaded non-conference schedule. "We weren't sitting on that bubble at the end [of the regular season]. And when you're sitting on that bubble, who knows how your team is going to react."

From Nov. 21 to Nov. 26, West Virginia played Texas, Kentucky and LSU – and lost all three games.

Beilein believes the Mountaineers qualified for their at-large bid on the strength of victories over Oklahoma on Dec. 22 and UCLA on Jan. 21. The Sooners lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament but UCLA is still alive in the Oakland Region with a Thursday date against Gonzaga.

The Mountaineers start four seniors – Mike Gansey, Kevin Pittsnogle, Johannes Herber and J.D. Collins – along with junior Frank Young. Beilein decided to play a tougher schedule based on the experience of his players and the fact they reached the regional finals last year before losing to Louisville.

"I'm too old now to say, We're going to wait until next year,' " Beilein said. "You've got to go after it when you have the team we have, and do everything you can to make sure you're not sitting there on Selection Sunday saying I wish we had played a tougher schedule."

NO-FEAR FACTOR

LSU, which plays top-seeded Duke in the Georgia Dome on Thursday night, held a 90-minute workout in Baton Rouge on Monday. Coach John Brady told reporters that the Tigers must be flexible while trying to defend the Blue Devils' All-American guard, J.J. Redick.

"We're going to probably put a couple of different guys on him," Brady said. "I'd say Garrett [Temple] may start on him. Then we may play Tasmin [Mitchell] on him and even Darrel [Mitchell] to give him some different types of defenders.

"Collectively we've got to have a good team defensive effort on him, how we handle him coming off screens without the ball and how we handle him when he comes off ball screens. There'll be a couple of different ways that we'll try to guard him, and we'll see which one works the best as the game progresses and adjust as we go."

To no one's surprise, LSU's confident big man says he won't be intimidated by the Blue Devils.

"It's always exciting to play Duke," Glen "Big Baby" Davis said. "It's like playing Connecticut and Kentucky. They're one of the great teams. I don't want to take it too excited. I want to take it at a nice pace, so when it really hits me I can receive it the right way. I try to look past the D-U-K-E, those big letters on the front of the jersey and try to be a competitor and just play."

FREEZING THE SHOOTER

Duke's Redick may be the closest thing to automatic at the free-throw line that college basketball has ever seen. That's why it was noteworthy when he shot 2-for-7 in the second-round victory over George Washington.

Five misses? For a guy who is a 91.2-percent free-throw shooter for his career? He was asked if he had ever missed that many before.

"Probably when I was eight and I shot two-handed," Redick said. "It's something that's happened a few times this year, where I've missed multiple shots. It's something where I just have to focus more."

The Duke Chronicle reported that it was cold inside the Greensboro Coliseum. When Redick was on the bench, he used a heat pack on his hands and was draped in his warmup jersey. "I was freezing," he said. "It was colder than heck in there and my first two that I missed at the beginning of the game, I couldn't really feel the ball it was so cold."

Of course, it's usually so hot in Duke's tiny Cameron Indoor Stadium that any other atmosphere would seem cold.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

Texas forward P.J. Tucker isn't one of the leading scorers in the NCAA tournament, but he is averaging 17 points and 11.5 rebounds in two games. He had double-doubles against Penn and North Carolina State.

"I recruited Tucker," Beilein said. "He's a guy that gives everybody a problem. He thinks like a guard and he rebounds like a center. He's a very good basketball player."

Ken Davis, a longtime college basketball writer for the Hartford Courant, is covering the NCAA tournament exclusively for Yahoo! Sports.


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Updated on Tuesday, Mar 21, 2006 3:01 am, EST

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