Basketball Notebook

A few notes and observations from the first day of the Big East Tournament in New York City.

West Virginia's win over Providence was, without a doubt, impressive. But was it enough to get the Mountaineers into the NCAA Tournament? Probably not. A win over Louisville would give the Mountaineers another victory over an RPI Top 50 team, and would leave them with 22 wins on the season in the eyes of the selection committee.

Of course, if you listen to ESPN analyst Doug Gottleib, the Mountaineers have to win the Big East Tournament, and probably beat a couple of NBA squads on Sunday afternoon before their ticket to the Big Dance is punched. Even then, Gottleib would likely say the Mountaineers were destined for the play-in game in Dayton.

As John Beilein has said over and over, the best thing the Mountaineers -- or any bubble team for that matter-- can do right now is win.

"I think the best idea for everybody in the coutry is just try and keep winning," Beilein said after his team's 92-79 victory over the Friars. "The NCAA -- I know the NCAA selection committee just does a terrific job, but we just need to keep winning and not worry about any of that."

Still, one would have to think that a win over the Cardinals would put Beilein's team in great position for a third consecutive NCAA berth.

***

Speaking of U of L and West Virginia, can anyone remember two schools that have met with more on the line so often?

Two years ago, the Mountaineers and Cardinals met in the Elite Eight. West Virginia built a 21-point first half lead before falling in overtime to Rick Pitino's team at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. A few months later, it was West Virginia's turn to comeback on the Cards when Steve Slaton and company rallied from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to prevail 46-44 in triple overtime. That win ultimately lifted the Mountaineers to the Big East Championship, and subsequently the Sugar Bowl.

This past November, the schools again met on the gridiron in one of college football's biggest regular season matchups. Louisville won that game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, and would go on to win the Big East crown later in the season.

Now, the rivalry will again shift to the hardcourt, this time in the World's Most Famous Arena. When the two schools get together in any competitive event, the game is almost always a classic. The atmosphere at Madison Square Garden should add even more to the rivalry between the two best all-around athletic programs in the conference.

***

In the win over the Friars, the Mountaineer offense carved up the Providence zone like a warm knife through butter. After the game, Beilein was asked whether or not this was the best his offense had executed all year.

"I think so," said the fifth-year head coach. "We've had our moments this year where we were extremely efficient and we've had several moments or several teams, games, that we just, you know, we just got young guys and somebody would throw us off, just one guy, and then you know, we would be out there in shot clock limbo and trying to figure out what we're doing

"We really did a great job tonight, and I'm sure that Louisville will -- you know, they were able to see everything and do everything and we'll have a great plan for that.

***

Over the past few weeks, Mountaineer point guard Darris Nichols has been playing the best basketball of his three-year collegiate career. Against the Friars, Nichols finished with 16 points, eight assists, and zero turnovers in a team-high 38 minutes of play.

Wednesday night's game was just the latest in a long line of recent masterpieces by the junior floor general. In the past five games, Nichols is averaging 15.4 points and 5.8 assists per game, while also averaging 37.6 minutes played. Making those numbers even more impressive is the fact that in those five games, Nichols has committed just ONE TURNOVER compared to his 29 assists.

And yet, this guy couldn't garner at least honorable mention All-Big East?


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