By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
March 17, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Winning the Big East basketball tournament does not guarantee NCAA tournament success. Just ask Pitt, which had excellent basketball teams in 2008 (lost in the second round to Michigan State) and in 2003 (lost to Marquette in the regional semifinals) and didn’t stick around that long in the national tournament.
||Da'Sean Butler watches the NCAA tournament selection show on Sunday afternoon at the Waterfront Place Hotel.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Da’Sean Butler knows all about that.
“(Former WVU player) Mike Gansey used to say to me, ‘Yeah we didn’t win the Big East but Pitt will lose in the second round of the NCAA tournament and we’ll go deep,’” said Butler.
Pitt is not the only Big East tournament winner to stumble early in the NCAA tournament. Syracuse won back-to-back Big East tournament championships in 2005 and 2006 only to get knocked out in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In 2005, Vermont stunned Syracuse and in 2006 Texas A&M squeezed the Orange.
Big East tournament winners Boston College (2001) and St. John’s (2000) were second-round victims.
West Virginia, too, has tasted NCAA tournament disappointment, losing to Dayton in the first round last year. Butler remembers that game well.
“I know last year everybody was in a hurry to talk about Kansas and we never got to focus on Dayton. We paid attention to it in practice, but outside everybody was like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to see you play Kansas,’” Butler said.
Obviously that never materialized. Butler said his sole focus is on a Morgan State team that won 27 games that included a non-conference win over Arkansas.
“We need to focus on Morgan State,” Butler said. “That’s my main objective right now.”
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is still trying to figure out how the NCAA tournament selection committee could make his team the third-best No. 2 seed in the tournament playing in the same bracket with No. 2-ranked Kentucky.
“I thought statistically we were a No. 1 seed,” said Huggins. “The disappointing this is, when they sit up there and say ‘Let’s look at the full body of work.’ If you look at the full body of work, we were probably a No. 1, but I didn’t think we would be a one – I thought we’d be a two. To be a third two is what I don’t understand.”
Huggins said using that to motivate his players is pointless.
“They’re smarter than that,” he said.
The Mountaineers proved a team can win a conference championship by shooting in the high 30s and low 40s, but Bob Huggins he doesn’t see a repeat of that in the NCAA tournament.
“The biggest challenge we have had is making an open shot,” he said. “We just haven’t shot the ball very well. We’re going to guard and we’re going to rebound, I think that is obvious. When you beat Georgetown on the glass by 14 with the talent they have, we are making a great effort to rebound the ball. We just haven’t made a lot of open shots.”
The last time West Virginia made more than 50 percent of its field goal attempts in a game was against Marquette on Dec. 29 at the WVU Coliseum. In fact, the Mountaineers have only shot better than 50 percent four times this year against Marquette, Cleveland State, Texas A&M and Long Beach State.
Eight times West Virginia has won games this year when shooting below 40 percent from the field, including three of its last four.
Da’Sean Butler believes some of West Virginia’s bad shooting is the result of the other teams’ familiarity with the Mountaineers, particularly in Big East play.
“It’s the worst when you’re like, ‘Alright, they know I’m going to make this cut’ and I can’t really cut hard because it’s pointless to make this cut,” said Butler. “it’s good to see teams that really haven’t seen us play and aren’t familiar with us.”
The 2010 Big East tournament championship was Coach Bob Huggins’ 10th in four different conferences.
Sophomore Kevin Jones recently eclipsed Brian Lewin’s school record of 113 offensive rebounds against Cincinnati. Jones now shows 118 offensive boards heading into NCAA tournament play.
West Virginia came into this season ranked 24th among all NCAA teams with 1,550 victories. Once the season is completed the Mountaineers will jump two spots to 22nd past Cincinnati and Princeton. The Mountaineers now trail Purdue by eight victories for 21st place.
This year’s team is one win shy of second place in single-season victories and two from matching the 1959 team for the most victories in school history with 29.
Sophomore guard Truck Bryant, who played so well at times the past two seasons, is trying to get out of a slump that has seen him score just six points in his last four games. Bryant’s scoring average has dipped below double digits for the first time since early January. Truck said Sunday that he is going to refocus and treat the NCAA tournament like a brand new season.
“Everyone who doesn’t play well says that,” said Huggins. “I think he will refocus. I don’t know about starting over because we’re 31 games into the season, but I think he will refocus. He didn’t play very well (in the Big East tournament) and he knows that and it’s not a big secret. When you don’t play very well you say I am going to refocus myself, which you should do.”
College basketball fans may remember Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman coaching Jason Kidd at Cal in the 1990s. Hardcore Mountaineer basketball fans will recall Bozeman playing against the Mountaineers for the University of Rhode Island in the early 1980s.
In one appearance against the Mountaineers in Providence, R.I., on Feb. 5, 1983, Bozeman came off the bench to score 19 points for URI in a narrow 73-72 defeat.
Morgan State has five players standing taller than 6-foot-8 on its roster including 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Kevin Thompson, who averages 12.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. Thompson scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the conference championship game against South Carolina State.
Morgan State’s top scorer is 6-foot-4 senior guard Reggie Holmes with an average of 21.8 points per game.
West Virginia could be looking at its first-ever top 10 finish in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll when it is released early next month. The Mountaineers are ranked No. 5 in the most recent coaches’ poll.
The Mountaineers’ highest-ever finish in that poll was 12th five years ago in 2005 following West Virginia’s Elite Eight run under former coach John Beilein. West Virginia’s other season-ending appearances in that poll came in 2008 (17th), 2006 (15th) and 1998 (18th).
When UPI had the coaches’ poll up through the 1980s, West Virginia made several appearances, including a No. 1 final ranking in 1958.
The Associated Press does not release a final poll after the national championship game. West Virginia finished the season sixth in that poll.
The team will charter to Buffalo after practice Wednesday evening and will have an open workout at HSBC Arena on Thursday from 1:30 to 2:10 p.m.