Before we get started, let's get one thing straight. The focus of the following isn't on the "no respect" card. No one on the Mountaineer team is complaining about a lack of attention or coverage. It's simply that in both games to date, and through much of the postseason, other story lines have dominated the run-up to the games.
In the Big East tournament, much of the coverage focused on Syracuse, Pitt and Villanova. Then, as each of those seeds were upset, the storyline became the double bye and the effect on the top seeds. It wasn't until West Virginia made the finals that the spotlight came on (although, admittedly the Da'Sean Butler buzzer beater against Cincinnati did get its fair share of ink), and even then in the pregame there was more discussion on how the Mountaineers would contain Greg Monroe than anything else.
Fast forward to the NCAA tournament, and the story has been the same. Todd Bozeman, who was disgraced at California and sat out for ten years before getting another coaching job, was the angle of choice despite the fact that he has been at Morgan State for four years. There were more questions asked about his return to coaching (as if that were a relevant story at this point) than there were about the game.
The Missouri game was much the same – only this time, the slant was West Virginia's supposed susceptibility to the raging Tiger press. Question after question on this subject was raised, with only the occasional no-brainer question (Da'Sean, what makes you good at taking the big shot?) thrown WVU's way. In fact, other than that giggle, West Virginia's players and coaches spent the biggest part of their time defending the Big East as the toughest conference in the country.
Might that, however, be just how the Mountaineers like it? As my Magic 8 ball app says, 'It appears so'. West Virginia has definitely had fun at its press conferences and interview sessions, and isn't using these "snubs" as any motivational fodder. There's been little to no mention of being a #2 seed, and certainly no complaints about coverage to date. Whether or not the lack of focus on WVU is removing a bit of pressure from the Mountaineers is hard to tell, but it doesn't look they are concerned with it.
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And then, of course, just as I write this, comes news that Truck Bryant is out for the rest of the tournament with a broken bone in his foot. We'll now see a spate of stories on how West Virginia will handle his absence, etc. But here's what all of that will really boil down to -- and remember, you read it here first.
1) Can Joe Mazzulla stay out of foul trouble? He'll have to play at least 30 minutes on Thursday. West Virginia has to get back on defense and cut down on Washington's dribble-drive penetration, and Mazzulla will be key in that regard.
2) How will WVU run offense when Mazzulla is out? Does it put Butler at the point, or have Ebanks start the offense? Either affects what West Virginia can do in terms of spreading the floor with those two at win spots on either side.
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Speaking of the media, some of the angles that are taken, then picked up on and run with by others, are really silly. Did we really need a two-day string of questions from a writer from Big 12 country trying to get WVU to say something outrageous about the relative strengths of the two conferences? Time and again, the "best conference in the country" debate was rehashed and beaten into the ground. In the end, who cares? The whole conference debate is kind of silly, anyway. Leagues don't win national championships. Teams do. And until we have a full conference series of match-ups with something at stake (no, the Big Ten – ACC challenge doesn't mean anything), then the debate is about as meaningful as which uniforms the Mountaineers are going to wear next. (Did I really say that? You bet.)
I understand that people are looking for a different angle to give their coverage some originality. But this is the NCAA tournament, not a middle school debate team meeting.
Some of the other topics "covered" were just as timely, including one that noted West Virginia's roster is littered with New york area players. That's news at this point? For all of the complaining that some traditional news outlets direct toward new media, there is certainly some room for raised eyebrows in the opposite direction.
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It will be a bit odd playing in the Carrier Dome without Syracuse in sight. Will West Virginia's familiarity with the venue help, at least a bit? Although WVU hasn't made a habit of playing under the giant marshmallow cover, it has made trips to upstate New York in 2006 and 2009, giving the veterans some experience in the arena. In many respects, playing there is like playing in many of the other non-basketball facilities that dominate the NCAA tournament venues, so it could help just a bit. The shooting backgrounds at the Carrier Dome are far away, and often take some getting used to.