Did you realize that West Virginia is facing one of college basketball’s most productive programs in Gonzaga? The Zags are making their 14th straight NCAA tournament appearance that includes five “Sweet 16” trips since 2006. Gonzaga has only been one-and-done in the tournament three times in its last 13 appearances in 2008, 2007 and 2002.
Bulldogs coach Mark Few is second only to North Carolina’s Roy Williams among active coaches in career winning percentage at .793, also, his 317 wins through 12 seasons is second to Williams’ 329 victories at Kansas among all coaches in NCAA history.
West Virginia, meanwhile, is making its 25th NCAA tournament trip in school history dating back to 1955. Coach Fred Schaus led West Virginia to a school-best six-straight NCAA trips from 1955-60; George King took WVU teams to the Big Dance in 1962, 1963 and 1965; Bucky Waters led the Mountaineers to the tournament in 1967; Gale Catlett took six teams to the tournament between 1982-89 and eight overall; John Beilein orchestrated postseason trips in 2005 and 2006 and Bob Huggins has got the Mountaineers into the dance all five seasons he has been back to Morgantown.
Overall, West Virginia is 25-24 with two trips to the Final Four in 1959 and 2010, an Elite Eight appearance in 2005 and Sweet 16 trips (and beyond) in 1959, 1963, 1998, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
- How about this one … West Virginia has lost eight games this year by a combined margin of only 29 points. Here they are: Baylor (2), Connecticut (7), Syracuse (2), Pitt (6), Notre Dame (4), Louisville (3), Marquette (1) and Connecticut (4). All but one of those teams is in this year’s NCAA tournament field of 68.
- Looking at the NCAA tournament bracket and seeing a number of teams playing at sites close to their campuses (West Virginia included) it makes you wonder if the selection committee had one eye on travel costs and the other on turnstiles. I recall reading a story recently about the decline in attendance in college basketball this year, including a five-year low in total attendance last season, and I wonder if that has something to do with it.
- During his media teleconference earlier today, Huggins was asked if he thought Gonzaga traveling 2,000 miles from Spokane, Wash., to Pittsburgh gave the Mountaineers an advantage. West Virginia has a short, 75-mile bus ride up to Pittsburgh.
“You haven’t seen our bus driver,” Huggins joked.
Huggins was also asked where toughness factors into his overall recruiting evaluation.
“That is important, but there are a lot of things that you look at,” he said. “You look at their physical attributes; you try as best as you can to try and figure out their mental makeup but it’s hard. We evaluate them but it’s getting worse and worse. Now we’ve got a couple of weekends in April and a few weekends in July to make evaluations on guys when they’re basically playing pickup games.”
- Huggins was asked to compare his most recent All-American player Kevin Jones
to some of the great players he’s coached in the past. He said Jones was comparable, but as far as maximizing his abilities, K.J. might be the best player he’s ever had.
- The men’s game always seems to have an eight or a nine-seed make a run in the NCAA tournament - something that has seemingly been missing on the women’s side. West Virginia coach Mike Carey thinks that may soon change.
“I think you saw more (upsets) this year in women’s basketball. For example we went to Notre Dame and beat Notre Dame when they were No. 2 in the country. You saw St. John’s go to Connecticut and beat them when they hadn’t lost a home game for years,” he said.
“It will happen more in the future. There for a long time most of your All-Americans or great players were going to three, four or five schools - unlike the men where they spread out a little bit more and want to go make a name for himself,” Carey added. “I’m hoping on the girl’s side that will start happening also. I’d rather go somewhere where they hadn’t won a national championship and go make a name for myself and not go to the same school and continue to try and win a national championship.”
- Congratulations to Petra Zublasing
for winning the air rifle title last weekend with a 696.2 score. She is the second Mountaineer in as many seasons to win the title (Nicco Campriani, 2011), and the 16th WVU rifle national champion. The Mountaineers now have 20 total individual titles.
- In the past, West Virginia’s defensive linemen were asked to occupy blockers, create double teams and keep the linebackers free to clean up things behind them. According to new defensive line coach Erik Slaughter that will change this year.
“I want them to make plays,” he said. “I want them to go and tackle the guy with the ball. It’s not that hard; whoever’s got the ball – go find him.”
Slaughter believes getting to the quarterback will be paramount to having success against the high-powered offenses West Virginia will be facing in the Big 12 this fall. Surprisingly, Slaughter says Dana Holgorsen’s offense will help his guys get to the passer on defense.
“The thing that makes it easier to sack the quarterback is when you know when they are going to throw the football,” Slaughter explained.
And West Virginia’s opponents will likely have to throw the football to keep up with Holgorsen’s high-scoring attack.
- You keep hearing from defensive coaches about the decline in tackling around the country and West Virginia’s current group of defensive coaches say there is a simple reason for it – spread offenses.
“Where the game has changed is making plays in space,” said co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “As you see with Dana’s offense, they throw a negative yardage route and all of a sudden it’s a nine-yard gain before you can blink an eye. Therefore, you have to have athleticism and you have to have physical toughness to be able to get off blocks and the ability to run and chase the football.”
“Tackling in space is very difficult – at any level – look at the NFL,” added defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “That’s why you have to rally to the ball and have more than one guy going to the ball.”
Like any coach, DeForest would prefer his players use proper technique to get guys to the ground but the bottom line is still getting them to the ground.
“You teach technique but in the big scheme of things if he’s down he’s down,” said DeForest. “At least you give us a chance to line up and play one more play. We led the country in turnovers last year (at Oklahoma State) and the most important thing at the end of a possession is who’s got the ball and we’re going to stress that more than anything.”
- Keith Patterson said the plan on defense will be to try and confuse the other teams’ quarterback. Of course the key to doing that will be not getting their players confused in the process.
“I think you have to be multiple,” Patterson said. “I think you have to move your angle points, change coverages and I think you have to zone pressure and I think that was something that intrigued (Holgorsen).
“In this day and age the quarterbacks are too well coached to just let them sit back there and comb their hair, so we want to confuse them with stemming, alignments and the changing of coverages – what they see before the snap is not necessarily what they will get.”
- And finally, I leave you with some humor … My favorite WVU sports journalist, Mickey Furfari, has long been known as “The Friendly Scribe” around these parts and I finally heard the story on how that came about.
Many, many years ago, West Virginia upset Virginia Tech in a football game down in Blacksburg in the early 1960s when the Mountaineers were struggling mightily on the gridiron. Mickey would frequently travel with the athletic staff back then and on this particular trip he was riding with long-time department No. 2-man Lowry Stoops and sports information director Eddie Barrett.
One of Stoops’ passions in life was money - particularly preserving his own; in fact, when he was fighting in France during World War I, Stoops started a side business of loaning money to soldiers but eventually was forced to jack up his loan rates when the poor guys kept dying on him.
Years later in 1959, when Stoops was in charge of the athletic department’s finances, he was so concerned about unloading the couple hundred tickets West Virginia was required to sell for the Final Four in Louisville that he went on statewide radio after the Boston University victory to inform Mountaineer fans that he would personally sell tickets from his home in South Park the following morning if anyone was interested in buying them.
When he got up and saw the cars lined outside his house all the way across the Westover Bridge, Stoops’ only recourse was to pull down the window shades, lock the front door, and climb out the back window to escape his predicament, which gets us back to my “Friendly Scribe” story.
After the Virginia Tech win, Mickey was so excited about beating the Gobblers (as they were known back then) that he impulsively picked up the dinner tab on the ride back to Morgantown. Stoops, his belly full and his wallet undisturbed, remarked afterward to Barrett in a voice as thick as molasses, “Why that was mighty kind of the Friendly Scribe to do that!”
Barrett got a kick out of it and the nickname stuck.
Have a great week!