Five NCAA Tournament Misses
West Virginia University’s men’s basketball team clearly wasn’t good enough to earn an invite into this year’s NCAA tournament field of 68, but here were five Mountaineer teams that should have made it to the Big Dance:2007 (22-9 at selection time)
West Virginia ran off to a 12-1 record to start the season, beating N.C. State in Charleston and winning three in a row to begin Big East play against Connecticut, Villanova and St. John’s before hitting a rough stretch in mid-January. The Mountaineers later recovered to upset second-ranked UCLA (minus Darren Collison) in early February at the Coliseum before finishing the season with a 22-9 record that included a 9-7 mark in Big East play. Still, that wasn’t good enough to get the Mountaineers into the Big Dance. However, West Virginia was the No. 1 seed in the NIT and went on to capture the tournament championship following wins over Delaware State, UMass, N.C. State, Mississippi State and Clemson in what turned out to be John Beilein’s final campaign in Morgantown.1997 (19-9 at selection time)
West Virginia posted a 19-8 regular season record that included an 11-7 mark in Big East play, but the Mountaineers and Syracuse – both 19-win teams in the Big East that year – were left out of the NCAA tournament. It was the first time Big East schools with at least 11 conference wins and 19 overall victories were unable to dance. During a 14-year period from 1983 to 1997, 65 out of 71 Big East teams were able to get into the NCAA tournament with at least 17 triumphs prior to the tournament. UMass, Texas, and USC were the last three in that year over WVU, Syracuse, Southwest Missouri State and Tulane. WVU won a pair of NIT games against Bowling Green and N.C. State before falling a game short of New York City in the quarterfinals against Florida State in Morgantown.1985 (20-8 at selection time)
West Virginia had a 20-8 record that featured a 16-2 mark in Atlantic 10 Conference play to capture the league regular season title, but got upset by Duquesne, 70-66, in the first round of the A-10 tournament in Piscataway, N.J., to have its bubble burst. Mountaineer coach Gale Catlett went on the offensive immediately after the loss, citing his team’s record in “the eighth-toughest conference in the country, according to Eastern Basketball” and playing the “11th-toughest non-conference schedule in the country,” according to the coach. The selection committee, which included Catlett’s boss Fred Schaus, was not all that impressed with Catlett's presentation and the Mountaineers were unable to overcome the disappointment of being left out of the tournament and were bounced from the NIT in the first round by Virginia in Morgantown.
1975 (14-13 selection time)
Forget the record, West Virginia was in the NCAA tournament after overcoming a six point second-half deficit on a pair of long jumpers by guard Bob Huggins in the championship game of the 1975 ECAC playoffs in Morgantown. The Mountaineers, which upset top-seeded Pitt in an opening round game the night before, had a one-point lead with 10 seconds left and Earnie Hall at the line shooting a one-and-one to ice the game. But he missed the free throw; Georgetown grabbed the rebound and got the ball down the floor to guard Derrick Jackson standing in the corner where he sank a 20-footer at the buzzer to win the game. Georgetown’s victory sent the game’s two coaches on different career paths – for the Hoyas’ John Thompson, it was the first of 20 NCAA tournament trips that he made during his long and outstanding coaching career. For West Virginia’s Joedy Gardner, it was a near miss in what turned out to be a brief four-year coaching tenure at his alma mater.1961 (23-4 at selection time)
The Mountaineers won the Southern Conference regular season title for the seventh straight year and finished the regular season ranked eighth in the country under first-year coach George King. But in order to make the NCAA tournament in those days you had to win your conference tournament. After an easy 18-point victory over VMI in the opening round of the Southern Conference tournament in Richmond, Va., the Mountaineers were bounced in the semifinals by William & Mary, 88-76. The Tribe’s Jeff Cohen scored 38 points and grabbed 19 rebounds, while West Virginia sophomore All-American guard Rod Thorn went 0 for 6 from the floor and missed all five of his free throw attempts in easily the worst performance of his great career. William & Mary also didn’t make the NCAAs either after getting eliminated in the championship game by George Washington.