Random shots from beyond the arc as we give a shout out to the Woods from bucolic Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
WE START OUR LATEST MUSINGS in this fashion because of the circumstances that generated the above mention:
While walking to
our car following a college alumni gathering several days ago at
Southern California's famed Santa Anita racetrack, a couple came into
view that included a man wearing a blue hat with the WV logo in gold
Knowing the far-flung Mountaineer citizenry as we all do, you can guess what happened next.
"Hey, are you from West Virginia?"
"You are? Where?"
"Point Pleasant? I'm from Parkersburg."
THAT WAS ALL IT TOOK FOR
the three of us to spend the next few minutes talking about the
Mountaineers' NCAA tournament chances, the Orange Bowl victory, what WVU
sports-related Internet sites we frequented and West "By God" Virginia
Point Pleasant's Mothman legend didn't come up in the discussion, but it probably would have had we talked a little longer.
When we parted
company, we left as newfound acquaintances, something that in our
experience usually happens when fellow Mountaineers have chance
encounters on foreign soil.
This encounter happened in Arcadia, California, but ones like it frequently happen elsewhere, we have no doubt.
That's just the way we are.
It's in our wiring.
NOT TO GET ALL STATE-PATRIOTIC
again or anything, but it seems that West Virginians have a bond that
natives of other states don't seem to have, a pride that cuts through
all layers of the societal scale.
That's why the
Woods and yours truly talked like we already knew something about each
other -- because we did. Our Mountaineers are a common denominator and
West Virginia is common ground.
That's why when
WVU takes the NCAA tournament floor against Gonzaga this evening, a
claven of WVU fans ranging from students to blue-collar types to people
you might have seen on screen or may in the future likely will gather in
Hollywood, California, to hoot and holler and make a scene for the
Mountaineers -- especially if they win.
We suspect something similar will take place in Hollywood, Florida, too, and throughout the country.
It's called The Mountaineer Nation for a reason.
BREAKING DOWN THE BIG DANCE:
WELL, WVU MADE THE NCAA tournament for the fifth time in a row and the seventh time in the past eight years.
The fact that
the Mountaineers were selected for the tournament despite not winning 20
games (19-13) , finishing below .500 in Big East play (9-10 counting a
first-round conference tournament loss) and losing eight of its past 12
games is a tribute to the reputation of the WVU program.
It was that, and
the tough schedule WVU faced this year during which it played enough
teams close and gathered enough signature wins to make the tournament
GOOD QUESTION. LET US SAY THE MOUNTAINEERS
will have at least one advantage heading into tonight's East regional
game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, also known as the Zags.
is that for the first time Pittsburgh will give a home-court and
home-crowd edge to WVU, considering that its campus is located about 80
miles or so from the game site and Gonzaga had to travel more than 2,100
miles to get there.
Fatigue, though, should not be a factor for Gonzaga or WVU entering the contest.
WVU has had eight days of rest since the Mountaineers Big East tournament-ending loss to Connecticut last Wednesday.
Gonzaga has had 10 days off since its March 5 loss to St. Mary's in the West Coast Conference tournament finals.
ANOTHER POSSIBLE advantage
for WVU is that it plays a more physical brand of basketball than does
Gonzaga, much of which can be attributed to the Big East being a more
physical conference overall than the WCC.
We say it's a possible advantage because much depends on how close the officials call the game.
If the referees allow some contact before whistling a foul, it probably will help WVU.
If they don't
allow some pushing and shoving, it could be a disadvantage if it means
the Mountaineers' get into foul trouble in the front court, where they
don't have much depth.
WEBELIEVE THAT WVU'S 6-9, 265-pound center/forward Deniz Kilicli has to play the majority of the game for WVU to win.
Kilicli will be
needed to provide defense against mobile Bulldog 7-foot center Robert
Sacre, and may be called upon to guard him alone while WVU coach Bob
Huggins stretches his defense to contain sharpshooting freshman guard
Kevin Pangos, who scored 27 points in a February win over St. Mary's,
hitting five of six three-point attempts.
must be around to contribute on offense and keep the Zags' defense from
collapsing on WVU's All-American power forward Kevin Jones, who has
averaged more than 20 points this season, a good portion of it on
put-backs of offensive rebounds.
KILICLI'S OFFENSIVE PRESENCE also might aid the Mountaineers' outside shooting, most importantly that of streaky guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant.
averaged more than 17 points a game this season, but he has taken a lot
of shots to do it. He literally can shoot you into a game and then right
back out of it.
Bryant can carry a team if he gets hot, though, at the same time leaving some space for Jones to work inside.
He needs to find
his rhythm to have a good shooting performance, and he does that when
he gets in the habit of stepping into his shots instead of forcing them
up off-balance from outside as the shot clock begins to run down.
A LOOSER DEFENSE KEPT HONEST
by outside shooting also makes it easier for Bryant and guards Jabarie
Hinds, Gary Browne and Aaron Brown to penetrate and either drop off
passes for good shots inside or drive to the basket themselves, which
tends to generate WVU foul shots.
particular, gets a chunk of his points from the free-throw line, where
he makes an average of almost 80 percent of his shots.
Jones has his usual 20-point, 10-rebound game, and the Mountaineers turn
in their usual solid defensive and rebounding efforts, the view from
here is that Kilicli is the key.
If Kilicli can
score in double digits, play at least 30 minutes and is available at the
end of the game, we like WVU's chance to pull out a victory.
If Sacre or
other Gonzaga players can send Kilicli to the bench with fouls for acres
of time during the game, WVU may be in trouble come crunch time, much
as it has during its 4-8 stretch run.
BOTH WVU AND GONZAGA have a recent history of first-game NCAA tournament wins.
WVU is 5-1 record
in its opening game since 2005, and has a 15-6 postseason record in that
span of time, including its National Invitational Tournament title in
2007. In NCAA play since 2005, WVU is 10-6.
Gonzaga (25-6 so
far) has a 10-3 first-game NCAA tournament record since 1999, when it
burst on the scene with a run to the Sweet 16. It has participated in
every March Madness since then.
LIKE IT WAS WITH JOHNNY WEST during his WVU career, Gonzaga has the son of an NBA Hall of Fame member on its roster who also played at the school.
sophomore guard David Stockton's father is NBA Hall of Famer and former
Gonzaga star John Stockton. The 5-11, 152-pound younger Stockton
averages about 16 minutes and four points a game.
PREDICTION:WVU 74, Gonzaga 69 in a zig-zag game, no pun intended.
Something tells us someone like Jabarie Hinds or Gary Browne will make a difference.
DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU,
but we find it rewardingly ironic that WVU's last NCAA tournament as a
Big East member includes at least one game on Pitt's home court.
That has to be
humiliating for the 19 loyal Pitt fans in existence and the Pitt team
members, who didn't even get invited to the NIT, but were relegated to
playing in the CBI.
What is the CBI, you ask?
We're not sure.
We think it might be a new prime time TV cop drama.