A Story To Be Written

PITTSBURGH -- If you've watched West Virginia's men's basketball team this season, you've seen plenty of faults and an equivalent number of near-misses. If the season was over now, those would be the story of the 2011-12 Mountaineers. But that's the thing. The season isn't over.

It's one of the great cliches in sports to note that "everyone starts the postseason zero-and-zero." But of course, cliches typically become cliches because they hold at least a bit of truth.

So it is with this WVU team. It enters Thursday night's NCAA Tournament Round of 64 game against Gonzaga 19-13 overall. By some measures, it only just snuck into the field -- the 19 wins the fewest of any at-large team, the 13 losses tied for the most, the RPI in the high 50s also the worst.

Those numbers are as impressive as they are relevant now -- which is to say not at all.

West Virginia has the same chance as the other 63 teams that made it to Thursday morning still in the field. They will take the floor against the No. 7 seed Bulldogs with the score tied at zero. If they win, the same will be true of any potential Round of 32 matchup with Ohio State or Loyola, Md.

Of course, you know these things just as much as the players who will take the floor know them. But the opportunity that is in front of the Mountaineers now simply can't be overstated.

Everyone comes to the NCAA Tournament with a theoretical chance to win a national championship. Only few come with a chance to completely rewrite the story of their season.

And as much as anything else, that is what will be on the line when Thursday night's game at Consol Energy Center tips off.

A loss to Gonzaga, and this WVU team (to channel former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green) is what we thought it was: namely, a flawed team with one star player, two inconsistent upperclassmen and a host of freshmen who wilted too often in pivotal moments for the Mountaineers to find success.

But a win? That raises the possibility of another run in March.

It's a chance for Kevin Jones to write a more fitting final chapter to his brilliant senior season and career. It's a chance for Truck Bryant to change the perception he was an erratic player and remind fans of why Bob Huggins recruited him to West Virginia in the first place.

It's a chance for Deniz Kilicli to throw off the weight of the slump that characterized the last few games of his season. It's a chance for the freshmen to prove that they are more than just their age, that they have the talent and moxie to compete when it matters most.

But that's all it is: a chance. The stage is bigger and the stakes are higher, but it's the same opportunity the Mountaineers have had all season long, to line up and play well and beat quality opponents.

It's been frequently pointed out by Huggins in the days leading up to this game that WVU has lost many of its games in extraordinarily close fashion. Indeed, it lost four games to teams in the RPI top 15 by a combined eight points.

That shows this team has the skill it takes to compete against just about anyone. But competing and winning, particularly in the biggest of games, are two different things entirely.

Can this team of competitors turn into one of winners? The answer, written starting Thursday night against the Zags, will ultimately be what is remembered most about this season.


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