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Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010

Watching West Virginia's meltdown against Pitt two weeks ago led me to wonder if Bob Huggins was outcoached by Jamie Dixon.

I should have been questioning why I judged the two coaches by a different set of standards.

Blame it on perceptions, unfair or otherwise.

Instead of closing out a sure victory in the closing minutes, Huggins' team took its foot off the gas pedal, lost momentum, confidence and, ultimately, the game.

Dixon was hailed as a coaching genius following the Panthers' 98-95 win in three overtimes.

Dixon's disciplined system prevailed over Huggins' organized chaos during crunch time, highlighting the difference between these highly decorated coaches.

More of Pitt's players performed to their maximum level in pressure situations than West Virginia's players during the Panthers' three-point escape.

I don't know if that's a reflection on coaching or the talent level of the players. Maybe it's a combination of both.

All I know is that when the teams played on Feb. 3, West Virginia embarrassed Pitt, 70-51.

Huggins was a coaching genius in the first meeting. Dixon's team barely showed up.

Better coaching• Better players?

West Virginia's players not only played at a much higher level than Pitt's players did in their 19-point blowout, the Mountaineers executed Huggins' gameplan much better than the Panthers carried out what Dixon wanted to accomplish.

So whose system is superior, Pitt's or West Virginia's?

It depends on your point of view.

Dixon is the popular choice locally, but there's something about Huggins' reputation for building elite programs that appeals to me.

I know that Dixon looks more like a coaching genius than Huggins does. Dixon dresses the part. He wears stylish suits, his hair is always perfectly in place, and he seems to be in complete control on the sideline.

Like Dixon, Huggins is comfortable with who he is. Huggins dresses casually on the sideline, preferring warmups to Armani suits, his hair more slicked back than stylish, and let's just say his sideline behavior is more animated than Dixon's.

Dixon was the Naismith national coach of the year last season as Pitt was ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time in school history. Pitt was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time and also advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time.

Dixon led Pitt to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first six seasons, including a pair of Sweet 16 appearances, winning more games during that span than any first-time coach in Division I history.

Dixon took over a good program from Ben Howland and made it even better. His credentials are impeccable.

But so are Huggins'. Maybe even more so.

It's not that Huggins' teams play hard. A lot of teams play hard. Dixon's teams play hard. It's that Huggins' teams play Huggins' way.

Huggins has made the NCAA Tournament 17 times, including his last 14 seasons at Cincinnati. He's taken one team to the Final Four and has made two Elite Eights and two Sweet 16s.

Huggins has won 660 games with a career winning percentage above .700. He's coaching in rarefied air.

While Dixon has taken Pitt basketball to new heights, Huggins did it at three schools before arriving at West Virginia in 2007 — Cincinnati, Kansas State and Akron.

So why the blind spot• Why has it been so hard for Huggins to receive his due nationally, or locally, for that matter?

What is it about Huggins that people don't get or like?

It's supposed to be about the bottom line. Winning, of course.

It would be wonderful if a great college education for all student-athletes was also the bottom line — granted, Huggins' teams through the years have produced less-than-sterling academic results — but the won-loss record has always been the real bottom line for coaches.

Dixon and Huggins are both great college basketball coaches.

What pushes Huggins over the top for me is that if Dixon coaches long enough to reach some of Huggins' gaudy numbers, he will have had quite a career.

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