Wednesday, March 22, 2006

No Buckeye ballers? No problem!

So, yes, we at the MWB are in a mixed state of shock and euphoria after four consecutive days of drunken basketball-watching which happened to culminate with our Buckeyes getting slapped around by Georgetown in what was probably the single worst possible matchup for Dr. Je'Kel and Mr. Dials. Copious amounts of good times were immediately halted by a two-hour stretch of extremely bad times, and then that was it for the weekend. All in all, yes, it was outstanding. But the taste in the mouth, she is bitter.

SO ... it's a good thing has some surrogate children we can all root for, in the form of the West Virginia Runnin' GanseyCats (hey, if Todd inexplicably has a problem with me calling them the "Fighting Pittsnogles," then this is what you're gonna be stuck with). As such, basketball-wise, this blog is about to become "Mountaineer Central" again, and hopefully for more than just this week.

Very solid first weekend for the 'eers. When you take into account both quality of play and actual results of the games, you can make a very compelling case that only Florida and Bradley looked better (SUPER-SIDENOTE: Bradley is legit. I'm not sure exactly how this happened, because Dids and I both watched them absolutely SUCK in the MVC finals - scoring 8 points in the first 14 minutes of the second half - but they were clearly, CLEARLY better than both Kansas and Pittsburgh. I'm shocked at how many people in the media are now saying "Hey, that's great for them, but Memphis is gonna drop the hammer on 'em this round," especially considering that most of these same people had Kansas or Pitt beating Memphis in the Sweet Sixteen. Did Memphis go from "weakest 1-seed" to "juggernaut" while I was in the bathroom or something?).

They started the tournament out with a deceptively impressive win over Southern Illinois, a semi-trendy upset pick due to their athleticism and defensive prowess (4th in the nation in raw defensive efficiency). But WVU went out and shot 44% from the field, drilled 11 three-pointers, and ensured that the game was never truly in doubt - a rarity among the highly-competitive MVC teams so far.

In the second round, the Herbernators slapped around a Northwestern State team that had previously dispatched Iowa in what was probably the best moment of the weekend. Again, the game was never truly in doubt, even though a scoring drought allowed NSU to claw back to within 8 points with four minutes to go. Didn't watch any of the second half of this one, as Todd, Evan, and I were deeply immersed in the George Mason/North Carolina game (the luxury of being able to watch any tournament game that you want never ceases to astound me. I'm getting giddy AND choked up just thinking about it again. Verklempt, you could say. Let's move on) at the time. A balanced scoring attack placed four 'eers between 9 and 14 points, led by Pittsnogle, who went a dismal 3-14 from the field but hit a bunch of free frows. Mike Gansey (THE EARS!) hauled in 12 of WVU's 27 rebounds.

And now here they are, in the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight year, and this time a little less of a surprise. And one has to at least be pleased with their chances at advancing further: the shooting is there, the hustle is there, and the defense is ... well, adequate. Of course, there are problems: like the Buckeyes, the Flying Beileins can be prone to maddeningly long scoring droughts, which is scary, especially when their defense is so dependent on turnovers and so vulnerable on the glass...

... especially against Texas, WVU's Sweet Sixteen opponent. As I'm sure we all remember, the two teams met back in November, with Texas coming back from a late deficit for a 76-75 victory, thanks mostly to West Virginia missing the front ends of THREE consecutive 1-and-1s in the final minute. And the Longhorns' 40-19 rebounding advantage in the game. Infuriating. One thing's for sure: the 'Snogles are gonna have to bring their A-Frame. I hate myself.


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