Tournament Thoughts

Mountaineer fans, it's time to get excited.

The blasé reaction to WVU's 67-54 win over Northwestern State – a victory which put West Virginia into the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year – isn't something I can figure out. Are we all so jaded that only championships will do? Were expectations so high that the feeling exists that the Mountaineers haven't really done anything yet? Is it because West Virginia's first two NCAA foes lacked the sexy name of a Wake Forest or a Texas Tech?

Other factors are also coming into play as well. The reaction of this Mountaineer team has been very even-keeled thus far, and fans that take their cues from the players' reaction obviously aren't going to get over-excited. However, while it's a good thing for the team and coaches to stay on a consistent level, that's not something the fans should do. It might be a long time before a West Virginia team records such a back-to-back accomplishment as this again. (As my friend Bill Noel points out, WVU doubles up on NCAA Sweet 16 appearances just slightly more frequently than Halley's Comet appears, so this feat certainly deserves some celebration.)

WVU jack-of-all-trades Joe Herber understands the mindset, and admits that this year's wins left a bit of a different feeling for him.

"Last year we were more ecstatic after the game. Today, with the way we played in the second half, we weren't as excited. I don't want to say it was a downer or anything like that, but it was a little bit of a different feeling."

Given that West Virginia held a 19-point halftime lead, the outcome certainly wasn't as dramatic as last year's double overtime thriller over Wake Forest, but the result is the same. And that leads to a second problem – many are judging West Virginia on the way it is winning games rather than the fact that it is winning them.

For instance, there was some grumbling after the Mountaineers didn't blow first round foe Southern Illinois completely off the map, even though the Salukis were obviously a capable foe. And when WVU "blew" a big lead to Northwestern State and allowed the Demons to get within eight points, more sounds of disappointment were heard. Which is, of course, ridiculous. These are capable NCAA tournament teams, and any win in the Big Dance is gold. Although, apparently not valuable enough for some.

Whatever the reasons, it's time to shake the ennui off and start making some noise. Run around your office with your shirt off and yell. Hit the local watering hole with your fellow Mountaineer fans and raise a glass. Blog and post on the Internet. But whatever you do, be sure to celebrate this week. You, and the Mountaineers, both deserve it.

* * *

One of the more ridiculous indictments I heard of WVU's play this weekend was that it wasn't a good team because it scored only four baskets in the second half against Northwestern State. Of course, that observation totally ignores the fact that WVU made 23 trips to the free throw line in the second half, and scored seventeen points from there. While the Mountaineers did miss three makeable layups in the period, they also were denied the chance to get several other shots away due to the clutching, grabbing and hacking tactics of the Demons, who could have felled trees with some of the hatchet blows they administered when the Mountaineers got close to the hoop. Facts such as those, however, were left out of the instant analysis provided by some that don't understand what they see, and can only draw conclusions based on the stat sheet.

* * *

Sunday couldn't have been better for me. What can beat watching Pitt lose and go home, then seeing the Mountaineers win and advance? For some WVU fans, however, that wasn't a good night. They were actually cheering for Pitt, on the theory that it helps the conference. Uhhhh, timeout.

While the need to cheer for other Big East teams in football games is apparent, the same doesn't hold true for basketball. In addition to the shape of the ball, there are numerous differences in the situations the sports face.

First, the Big East basketball conference doesn't need to earn any respect. It's established, and it's going to have six or seven teams in the NCAAs every year, and sometimes eight or nine. Second, despite some fans' opinions, the NCAA selection committee doesn't care what teams or conferences did a year ago when making its picks for the current season. If all eight Big East teams had flamed out on the first weekend this year, it would not affect next year's picks. (If you need proof, see if any deserving Big Ten teams get left out next year just because the conference failed to place a team in the Sweet 16 this year. I guarantee it won't.) The committee has enough to worry about in weighing all the evidence from the current year without looking back to see what a team or league did a year ago. And performance form a season ago isn't factored in anyway, despite what conspiracy theorists will tell you. Remember, these are the same guys who maintain the world is still flat and that the U.S. Government faked the Apollo moon landings.

The third argument advanced was that Pitt winning would be "good for the league", because losses draw fire from television bobbleheads. Again, give me a break. The weight given to what a has been player or a failed coach has to say about my team or league carries about as much impact and importance as my opinion on particle accelerators.

But the final reason is the most important of all. It's Pitt! Which meant that I enjoyed the opening half of Sunday's Auburn Hills doubleheader almost as much as I liked the nightcap.


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