By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
West Virginia, seeded 10th, is a slim, one-point favorite against seventh-seeded Gonzaga in the first round of the men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.
This first meeting ever between the two teams is scheduled for 7:20 p.m. tonight at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center. It was in that arena that the Mountaineers defeated Duquesne 64-61 in a regular-season game last year.
In Thursday’s other games at Pittsburgh, No. 1-seeded Syracuse (31-2) meets No. 16 UNC Asheville (24-9), No. 8 Kansas State (21-10) plays No. 9 Southern Miss (25-8), and No. 2 Ohio State (27-7) goes against No. 15 Loyola (Md.) (24-8).
The winner of the WVU-Gonzaga game will advance to the second round against the winner of the Ohio State-Loyola game on Saturday.
Asked whether he was surprised that WVU was placed in the Pittsburgh regional, coach Bob Huggins said:
“Not really. I thought we’d go either to Louisville, Columbus (Ohio), or Pittsburgh.” When told that he must know somebody on the NCAA selection committee, the veteran coach shot back that, “I know a lot of people.”
This will be the 20th NCAA Tournament for Huggins, who has more that 700 wins overall as a Division I head coach in 30 years.
This is his fifth consecutive appearance with WVU teams.
Huggins said he has been impressed by a lot of things Gonzaga does well. He thinks its players are very talented and that they are extremely well-coached.
“They do a great job offensively and defensively,” he continued. “And they make it difficult to score the ball. They pass the ball extremely well, too.”
As for his young, freshman-loaded squad, he noted that it lost 10 games by a total of just 29 points.
“We have been inconsistent and it’s not just one player,” he said. “We have had problems finishing games.
“We’ve got to practice with attention to detail better.”
For the benefit of the West Coast writers, Huggins said WVU is averaging a good bit more than it did a year ago.
“We’ve been scoring at opportune times, and we’ve played good people,” Huggins stated. “Obviously, we’d like to score a little more, but we’ve been in games.”
“We just did the best we could.”