Certainly, it's a factor. The East has “brand names” like North Carolina, Indiana, Notre Dame, Michigan and Kentucky. It has Xavier and West Virginia as real threats to win, and Wisconsin lurks as a dark horse. In the lower seeds, Stephen F. Austin, Providence and Chattanooga are high quality teams. And for those looking to stretch the point, there's even Pitt.
Listing all those teams, it's easy to mark the East as the “Region of Doom”. But the real thing to remember is that WVU, or any team, doesn't have to play everyone else in that quarter of the bracket to advance. It's not pool play, nor a round robin. You just have to get two wins to escape from New York.
For instance, to get out of the region, WVU would only have to play, at most, one of the group that includes UNC, Indiana, UK and Providence. Even on its side of the bracket, it won't have to face both Notre Dame and Michigan, and will probably not see Wiscy or Pitt either. That doesn't make the four games it would have to play any easier, but it's not like a nine-game schedule against all of those heavyweights.
West Virginia's path to Philadelphia, site of the East Region semis and finals, isn't a cakewalk, though. It's probably the toughest of any of the three seeds. Who wouldn't rather be playing Seton Hall in the second round (as Midwest three Utah will likely do)? Or the winner of Vandy\Wichita State, which South #3 Miami gets? (The final #3, Texas A&M,could get Texas in the second round, a match-up that is all but prohibited by NCAA seeding and scheduling policies). Most WVU fans would probably take those games in a flash. And that doesn't even include the Mountaineers' first rounder against woefully under-seeded Stephen F. Austin, which was clearly made with a style match-up in mind.
The game against the Lumberjacks removes one of the positives we, and Mountaineer fans, usually attribute to Press Virginia in NCAA play – an unfamiliarity that should work in WVU's favor. While SFA doesn't fullcourt it as much as WVU does (we'll have more on this in our game preview), it sees pressure and traps all the time in practice. How much that helps remains to be seen, but at least for now it seems to lessen the Mountaineer advantage a bit.
The next round has familiar names, storylines and ties, but the advantage could be back on West Virginia's side in any potential Sunday match-up. The theory that John Beilein at Michigan or Notre Dame (knows) the Mountaineers just because of those ties isn't grounded in reality. What Beilein knows about WVU comes from the 2012 game in this same Barclay's Center, and that squad has about as much in common with this year's team as a Model T does to a Lamborghini. With Notre Dame, a former Big East opponent, the same holds true. They might know West Virginia's mascot and colors, but they'll have to learn about the Mountaineers from video review and watching them on Friday. You'll read and hear a lot about the WVU – Beilein tie and the WVU – Notre Dame Big East history, but it means nothing in this tournament.
The same will hold true if WVU gets out of the first weekend and advances to Philadelphia. If the opponent is Xavier, there will be much made of Huggins at Cincinnati and Xavier as his blood-sworn enemy. And you can just imaging the hype if Pitt somehow gets out of Brooklyn – that would cause local hype of huge proportion, given the inability of the two schools to schedule a hoops game since the teams bailed to new conferences. Again, though, it will all be pre-game fodder that won't have an effect on actual play. Does anyone on the current Mountaineer or Panther squads even know about the history between the schools?
- WVU was the only Big 12 team in the East Region. The West got three (Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma) while the Midwest had two (Texas Tech and Iowa State) and the South one (Kansas).
- Syracuse and Tulsa got absolute passes into this tournament. There are Division II teams that are more deserving of being here.
- At least the Mountaineers managed a primetime 7:10 p.m. Eastern slot for its opener on Friday. Seems like WVU often gets stuck in dreaded afternoon games, so at least there's some recognition this year. Also, the Mountaineers are on CBS, and thus get a quality annouce team in Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkel.