Here Come the Jayhawks
There are only seven college basketball programs with three or more NCAA tournament titles, and one of them will be making an appearance at the WVU Coliseum on Monday night. Of course, we’re talking about the Kansas Jayhawks.
Kansas has claimed national titles in 1952, 1988 and 2008 and has also finished second six times, most recently last year when it lost to Kentucky, 67-59, in the 2012 championship game at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Kansas becomes the fifth men’s hoop program with at least three NCAA titles to play at the Coliseum, the four others being UCLA (11 titles), Kentucky (eight), Duke (four) and Connecticut (three).
The only two programs with three or more championships that have not made a visit to the 40-plus-year-old Coliseum to face West Virginia are North Carolina (five) and Indiana (five). The Mountaineers have played North Carolina five times in the roundball sport, including a 1951 game at the old Field House and UNC also made a trip to Morgantown to play in a 1972 NCAA tournament regional, while West Virginia and Indiana have yet to meet on the hardwood.
So with the Jayhawks, coming off a 13-point victory over Oklahoma on Saturday and possibly arriving in Morgantown as the top-ranked team in the country (depending upon what Michigan does today on the road at Illinois), here is one person’s opinion of the five best teams to ever play in the Coliseum:
5. 1996 Syracuse (National runners-up, 29-9)
Just like Connecticut did in 2011, the 1996 Syracuse team caught fire in postseason play after earning a four-seed in the NCAA tournament. The Orange knocked off Georgia, 83-81, in a memorable Sweet 16 matchup and then defeated Kansas and Mississippi State to reach the national championship game where they lost to a Kentucky team that featured nine future NBA players. It was Boeheim’s second trip to the finals, having lost a buzzer-beater to Keith Smart and Indiana in 1987. Forward John Wallace (22.2 ppg.), guard Todd Burgan (12.1 ppg.) and center Otis Hills (12.7 ppg.) were the big dogs for Syracuse that year. By the way, a West Virginia team that won only 12 games in '96 managed to pull off one of the biggest upset victories of that era when it knocked off the 12th-rated Orange at the Coliseum, 90-78, on Jan. 16, 1996. Gordon Malone (22 points), Damian Owens (17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds) and Ohio State transfer Greg Simpson (17 points) were terrific that night as the hot-shooting Mountaineers made 54 percent of their field goal attempts to overcome a 43-30 deficit on the glass.
4. 2011 Connecticut (NCAA champions, 32-9)
Recently retired Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun had a lot of success in the WVU Coliseum, winning six out of nine times, but one of Calhoun’s losses came in 2011 when Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers outlasted the Huskies 65-56. In fact, UConn was only 9-9 in Big East play before catching fire in the postseason, becoming the first program in league history to win five games to claim its seventh Big East tournament title. Guard Kemba Walker was unstoppable in the postseason, scoring 130 points in the Big East tournament and then making shot after shot in leading the Huskies to nail-biting NCAA tournament wins over Arizona and Kentucky before UConn knocked off Butler, 53-41, in the title game. But Walker, the ninth pick in the 2011 NBA draft, had a tough go of it at the Coliseum against West Virginia, hitting just 8 of his 23 field goal attempts as the Huskies shot just 37.3 percent for the game. Guard Joe Mazzulla (18 points) and forward Kevin Jones (15 points and 10 rebounds) came up big for West Virginia.
3. 2003 Syracuse (NCAA champions, 30-5)
Syracuse had just one senior, guard Kueth Duany; it had to contend with two players transferring before the start of the season, and then had to deal with the escapades of freshman point guard Billy Edelin, who was suspended for 12 games because he played in a non-sanctioned summer league, but freshman one-and-done sensation Carmelo Anthony helped keep things running smoothly and eventually steered Syracuse to its only national championship under veteran coach Jim Boeheim. The No. 3 player in the NBA draft (LeBron James was picked No. 1 that year and the forgettable Darko Milicic was No. 2), Anthony averaged 22.2 points per game and would score 20 points and hand out seven assists in the national championship game against Kansas at the New Orleans Superdome. Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara were also key players for the ‘Cuse, along with Duany and Edelin. Coach John Beilein’s Mountaineers battled Syracuse in an early February game in Morgantown that year, the Orange leading by just one at halftime, but in the second half Syracuse put on a running and dunking clinic that resulted in a 94-80 victory.
Connecticut administered one of the worst beatings a West Virginia team has ever endured at the Coliseum, the top-ranked Huskies using every single player on their roster in an 80-45 emasculation of the Mountaineers on Jan. 9, 1999. Silky smooth forward Richard Hamilton led the way with 30 points before joining the rest of the Husky starters on the bench to watch the remainder of the game. UConn had easy victories over Texas-San Antonio, New Mexico and Iowa in the NCAA tournament before finally being challenged by Gonzaga in the regional semifinals, and then Ohio State in the regional finals. In the national championship game against Duke, Connecticut was able to get past the Blue Devils, 77-74, to claim the first of three titles for coach Jim Calhoun. Hamilton may have been the team’s headline player, but chunky scoring guard Khalid El-Amin, defensive-minded guard Ricky Moore, rebounder extraordinaire Kevin Freeman and space-eating Jake Voskuhl made this an excellent all-around basketball team.
1. Louisville (NCAA champions, 33-3)
Led by Dr. Dunkenstein - high-flying 6-foot-4 guard Darrell Griffith - and the McCray brothers, Scooter and Rodney, Louisville breezed through the Metro Conference with a 12-0 record before producing nerve-wracking victories over Kansas State and Texas A&M in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. After that, the Cardinals had a much easier time of it with LSU in the Midwest Regional finals and then Iowa in the national semifinals to reach the national championship game where Coach Denny Crum, a John Wooden protégé, was matched up against his former employer. Crum was able to outlast the Bruins, 59-54, at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis to win the first of two championships with the Cardinals. During their 1980 march to the title, Louisville had a mid-February date with West Virginia at the Coliseum. The out-manned Mountaineers were game, though, particularly in the first half when they trailed only 44-41, but the athletic Cardinals flexed their muscles in the second half to cruise to a 90-78 victory. Griffith was as good as billed, pouring in 35 points on 16 of 23 shooting. He was the second player selected in the 1980 NBA draft later that year, and three years later, Rodney McCray became the third overall player picked by the Houston Rockets. Scooter McCray and forward Derek Smith were second-round picks off that team.
Worth a mention: Louisville (2012), Villanova (2009), Pitt (2009), UCLA (2007), Connecticut (2006), Pitt (2003), Georgetown (1995), Massachusetts (1995), Temple (1988), Pitt (1987), UNLV (1983), Ohio State (1979), Notre Dame (1979) and Kentucky (1970).
Meeting No. 1 in Morgantown
Feb. 27, 1983, UNLV (87-78 win)
Feb. 23, 1988, Temple (62-61 loss)
Jan. 27, 1995, Massachusetts (97-94 loss OT)
Jan. 9, 1999, Connecticut (80-45 loss)
Feb. 18, 2006, Connecticut (81-75 loss)
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West Virginia Mountaineers, Kansas Jayhawks, Syracuse Orange, Connecticut Huskies, Louisville Cardinals, Big 12 men's basketball
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