Country Roads, Take Me Home To... Pittsburgh? - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Country Roads, Take Me Home To... Pittsburgh?

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MORGANTOWN -

The Mountaineers found out their path to the Final Four on Sunday, and it begins just an hour up the road in Pittsburgh.

It may not be the most exotic of locations and, sure, maybe a local WVU sports reporter would rather find himself in a different city for the madness that defines March – but the team couldn't ask for a better situation.

These Mountaineers need confidence following a first-game bouncing in the Big East Tournament. They'll work toward regaining it in the days leading up to their matchup with the No. 7 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs, but the de facto home crowd could do wonders in their advantage.

"That's a great location for us because it's an hour away so I'm sure a lot of our fans will be there," senior guard Truck Bryant said after the selection was made Sunday night. "That's important to have your fan base there when you're in an environment like this."

Two years ago, West Virginia found itself traveling just a few hours up the road to Buffalo, N.Y. for its first two games along the way to Indianapolis and the Final Four. That year, the Mountaineers were the two-seed. This season, if they make it past the Bulldogs, they could face the two-seed, Ohio State.

Columbus, Ohio is a host for these initial rounds, but one- and three-seed teams are playing in Ohio State's hometown. The next closest venue the Buckeyes could be given was Pittsburgh, and even though that fan base will certainly travel to support its team, WVU would likely have a greater turnout.

Bryant believes the Buckeyes have reason to be a bit perturbed by that scenario, should it play out.

"Definitely," he says. "Usually when you're that high of a seed, you'd be closer to home and I mean, I'm not complaining. We're closer to home."

Generally a trip to Pittsburgh has not meant home court advantage when it comes to WVU basketball. The team has an overall record of 73-92 in the city that is home to both the Pitt Panthers and the Duquesne Dukes.

Take those two teams out of the equation, though, and the Mountaineers have a 22-16 record in Pittsburgh.

How fitting it is that in a year in which the Panthers do not make the NCAA Tournament, or even the NIT as is the case, their bitter rival has already won in their arena and now has a chance to call its own town the "home" advantage?

Kevin Jones recalls the first – and only – time WVU played inside the fresh, new Consol Energy Center. That matchup, against Duquesne just six games into the season, was much closer than the Mountaineers would have liked, but they were still able to pull out a 64-61 win.

The senior forward is hoping round two (and three) will have similar end results.

"It was a real nice place and we got a win, so hopefully that happens twice again. That'd be great," says Jones. "It's crazy. Usually [Pittsburgh is] a place you don't want to go to and play, but it can be an advantage for us."

By this point in the season, with the late-game struggles that are beginning to define the year as a whole, no one on this team is counting any chickens prior to the eggs hatching.

They may have done so a couple months ago when a legitimate shot at first place in the conference was within sight or even through the course of individual games like that collapse against Connecticut, but there is no room for complacency when the entire season is on the line.

They are fighting, as they have all year, for a spot in the Final Four and a national championship. These Mountaineers believe they can beat any team in the country, though they have made themselves acutely aware that they could lose to any roster, too.

"The goal is to get to the Final Four and we've got a tough road ahead," says Bryant. "Gonzaga the first game, that's a tough team and we've just got to be prepared. At this point, the only thing we can do is give it all we've got."

Win or go home.

Pittsburgh may be just 70-some miles up the highway, but each minute of that drive back to Morgantown will feel like an eternity if the Mountaineers are unable to survive and advance.

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