To be perfectly honest, when you're on a three game losing streak, probably the last team you want to play next is the defending national champions. But, as the luck of WVU sports often seems to go, sure enough Tuesday night Jim Boeheim brings his 19-6 Orangemen into the WVU Coliseum for a 7:00 game. The Orangemen are riding a wave of confidence following Sunday's overtime win at Pittsburgh. It marked the first win by an opponent since the Panthers opened the Peterson Events Center.
The Mountaineers hung tough with Cuse for a good portion of last year's game at the Coliseum. Heading into the locker room, the Blue and Gold led 47-46. But in the second half, Gerry McNamara took over the game, lobbing alley oop after alley oop over West Virginia's 1-3-1 defense to Hakim Warrick and some kid named "Melo." While it was fun to watch as a basketball fan, I hope I don't see more of the same on Tuesday night.
"It's tough to play the 1-3-1 against rim runners," admitted Mountaineer head coach John Beilein. "We have a lot of stuff we can throw at them, but they're so good that we have to do everything well."
While Carmelo Anthony has since gone to the Denver Nuggets, McNamara and Warrick are still causing problems for opposing teams. McNamara has struggled recently with his shooting, but still averages 15 points per game. The long, lanky Warrick has been a standout performer all year, and is a virtual lock to make first team All-Big East with his 19.7 ppg and 9.0 rebounds per game.
"He's just so long, and he's so quick. We like to recruit those guys with long arms. We have a couple of guys out there now, like Tyrone Sally and Joe Herber and Brad Byerson with long arms, but Warrick's arms are almost freakish," said the second year head coach.
Both teams are playing this game with limited preparation time. The Mountaineers last played Saturday, while the Cuse played just two days ago.
"Yesterday we just did some light work and lifting, and today we ran a full practice," explained Beilein. "Syracuse is probably a little bit more comfortable with this than we are, because they've played a lot of Big Monday games after having a Saturday game.
"For us, it's more like a Wednesday to Saturday routine where we have a two-day prep at the end of the week instead of the beginning."
The Mountaineers have always played Syracuse tough in the Coliseum. Let's hope Tuesday night is consistent with that trend.
This game marks the final home game of the season for West Virginia, and the final career home game for three dedicated members of the basketball program. Senior walk-on forward John Curran is from Clarksburg, and is the only senior player on this year's roster.
"It's different having just one senior on Senior day, but it's better than having four like we'll have in a couple of years when our first recruiting class leaves," said Beilein. "Jonathan Curran has been as important to this program as anyone we have. He's a captain, and he does so many things for this team in practice, off the court, in the locker room. The thing about John is he's a really good basketball player too. If I had known about him when I was at Richmond, I probably would have offered him a scholarship."
Joining Curran on a sentimental trip down the carpet Tuesday will be senior manager Wesley Brooks. While managers are seldom recognized for what they do, they deserve a lot of credit for the hard work they put in both in practice and on game day. Brooks is always enthusiastic about the game, no matter what the score is. If you're sitting on the fence as to whether you come Tuesday night, do yourself a favor and come thank these seniors for their dedication to West Virginia University basketball.
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Beilein briefly touched on the elbowing incidents that occurred in the second round, excuse me, second half of Saturday's game with Virginia Tech.
"I didn't see the elbows, because I happened to be looking away from the ball both times. After seeing them on film, I will say that we would have lost the game by more had I seen them because I probably would have gotten a technical.
"I hope Seth (Greenberg, Tech's coach) handled the situation in whatever way he saw necessary. It's just not good for the game."
We all saw what happened. Reading our message boards, you can see how riled up everyone has gotten over this, and rightly so. But let's focus our attention on Tuesday's game against the Orange. Get your butts in the seats (fellow students!) and make some noise. After all, how often do you get to play the defending national champs in your building?