Lessons Learned

Da'Sean Butler said Thursday that last year's WVU men's basketball team made the mistake of looking ahead to a potential NCAA Tournament second round game against Kansas. The senior swingman also said the Mountaineers have learned from that error in judgment.

The forward from Newark, N.J., who has become a media darling after his stellar performance at last week's Big East Conference tournament, made clear that Friday's opponent, No. 15-seed Morgan State, has the full attention of he and his teammates.

"Everybody was like, oh, well, you guys, I can not wait to see you guys play Kansas. I can not wait to see you play Michigan State, or whoever," recalled Butler, during the players' press conference before a shoot-around at HSBC Arena on Thursday afternoon.

"I know the coaches drilled it into our heads about Dayton [which went on to beat the Mountaineers 68-60 in the first round], but as a team, I don't think we were focused on Dayton. I made that a point in my head. Honestly, I am just thinking about Morgan State right now."

"We definitely felt disappointed last year, just because we knew that we were a better team than Dayton," added Mountaineer forward Devin Ebanks.

"But they were a better team that day. It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth, and my [then-freshmen] teammates -- losing in the first round and it being our first time in the tournament, having an early exit. So this year, we are looking to turn it around."

To hear Morgan State (27-9) tell the story, Butler, Ebanks and the rest of WVU's players and coaches shouldn't be overlooking the Bears' chances, either.

Head coach Todd Bozeman did little to dissuade the notion that his team, the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, came to western New York with the hope of being competitive enough to earn only the fifth-ever first round upset of a No. 2 seed since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

For the second-straight year, Morgan State finds itself as a fifteenth seed in the Big Dance. Last season, that meant Bozeman's squad ran into Oklahoma -- and its star Blake Griffin, who Bozeman and his players continually referred to as "Superman" during their media sessions earlier Thursday.

The Sooners ran away with an 84-52 victory in that one, but that doesn't mean the underdogs harbor any less optimism heading into tomorrow's match-up with the Big East champions.

Bozeman, when asked how his team would deal with the physicality of West Virginia, said his team was the MEAC's version of the Mountaineers -- a team that plays with intensity and an edge on both ends of the floor.

Butler agreed after watching film of his first round opponent, but also said that most every team has tried to take on WVU in that way since Bob Huggins took over as head coach.

"Our coach tells us all the time just about what he used to do a long time ago at Cincinnati. Everybody knew their reputation, how physical they were," he said.

"So any coaches or any other teams know they're playing against a Bob Huggins team, and they're going to come out and play physical in general, because their coaches drill it in their heads -- you have to be physical, have to be ready to go out and play and keep up with them."

"We're going to go out there, play our game and play with great intensity, and if they come out with great intensity as well, just try to beat it. All we can do is go out there and take care of our business first."

When the Mountaineers (27-6) start to worry about what Morgan State does, they will focus on Bozeman's star guard, Reggie Holmes. The senior from the Bears' own proverbial backyard (the school is located in Baltimore, Md.) averages 21.9 points per game.

"He's a very good player," said Butler. "We watched him on film. I saw the game they had earlier in the year against Louisville [a 90-81 loss at Freedom Hall on Nov. 22]."

"You know he can shoot the ball. He's flat-out one of the best shooters in the country and one of the best scorers in the country. He does a lot for his team, you know, in general. Overall, he's just a really good player."

There's no avoiding the general perception -- on paper, West Virginia should be able to cruise into the second round. But NCAA Tournament games are played on hardwood, not stat sheets.

Thus, the Mountaineers have to avoid both the emotional high of its dramatic three-day run to win the Big East championship at Madison Square Garden -- and the sudden letdown that came with being left off the top line when NCAA Tournament seeds were announced the next day.

But rather than using the latter moment as a reason to sulk, WVU players said they believed it would provide motivation to bring their play to yet another level.

"At first, we were kind of disappointed a little bit, seeing that we had done everything that we were supposed to to get that No. 1 seed," said senior forward Wellington Smith. "Obviously, it did not happen. So when this team goes out there, we are going to show them we deserved that."

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