By Cam Huffman
I wouldn’t have been more surprised reading the comments of Georgetown coach John Thompson III Monday morning on tonight’s matchup with West Virginia in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament if he had revealed that he was giving up his coaching gig and turning it over to Nick Saban.
In my eyes, the 7 p.m. matchup between the former Big East rivals was perfect. Few teams are ever excited about an NIT bid — it’s a consolation prize for those not good enough to win big and make it into the NCAA Tournament — but renewing an old rivalry, I thought, would at least give the game some interest.
WVU and Iowa State have played some good games in the last two seasons in the Big 12, but that matchup just doesn’t have the tradition that comes with the Mountaineers and the Hoyas. And I have a hard time believing that Georgetown fans were as excited about meetings with Butler or Creighton in the rebuilt Big East this season as they were games with Syracuse, UConn or West Virginia in the past.
Renewing the rivalry was the perfect way to turn a boring first-round NIT game between two average teams — WVU finished 17-15 overall and 9-9 in the Big 12 while Georgetown finished 17-14 with an 8-10 Big East mark — into something worthy of the ESPN spot it will occupy tonight with Harrison County native Mike Patrick handling the play-by-play.
It’s sort of like choosing a Ferrari with 150,000 miles and a dented paint job over a new Ford Focus. It may not be the best Ferrari on the road, but it’s still a Ferrari.
WVU head coach Bob Huggins seemed to agree.
“We’ve had great games recently with Georgetown and in Washington D.C. at the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “Mountaineer Nation has always turned out in great numbers in games there, and I know they will be there on Tuesday.”
Thompson, though, saw it differently. He wanted that Focus — perhaps a matchup with St. Mary’s or Belmont — because it would at least be new.
“Honestly, in my perfect world we would not be playing someone that we’re familiar with and they’re familiar with,” he said. “Their roster is very different. Their personnel is not who we have seen. But Huggy is Huggy. He’s one of the best coaches who has ever done this. So we’re going to have to go against him. He knows what we try to do and how we try to do it, and we know what he tries to do.
“In my perfect world, would I rather have a different opponent? Absolutely. But it’s not a perfect world.”
Why wouldn’t Thompson want a matchup that gives fans a reason to turn out for a Tuesday night NIT game? Maybe the answer can be found in his record against Huggins.
Since Huggins’ arrival in Morgantown prior to the 2007-08 season, the Mountaineers and Hoyas have met seven times. Georgetown won both a regular season game and a Big East Tournament game in 2008, but since that time Huggins’ Mountaineers have won five straight. They beat the Hoyas 60-58 in 2010 to win the Big East Tournament title, and the last meeting was a 74-62 WVU victory over a Georgetown team ranked No. 8 in the land in 2012.
Huggins seems to have Thompson’s number, and reading between the lines, JT3 was glad the Mountaineers were off the schedule.
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The question that does need to be asked is why tonight’s game is being played inside the 2,500-seat McDonough Arena.
The last three times Georgetown visited the WVU Coliseum, the matchup drew crowds of 10,526, 13,211, and 14,048. Math was never my strong point, but I’m confident that’s a whole lot more than 2,500. There were more fans at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center last week when Westside and Wyoming East met in a sectional game than there will be tonight for Georgetown and WVU.
I understand that now that the NCAA has taken over the NIT it uses seeds, and not seats, to determine home games. But how difficult would it have been to make WVU the fourth seed and Georgetown the fifth seed instead? Knowing the the Verizon Center, where the Hoyas usually play their home games, was booked for the circus, it would have made sense.
In fact, the seeds probably should have been reversed, regardless of the arenas. A team that finished 9-9 in the No. 1 RPI league in the country and had wins over Kansas and Iowa State down the stretch should have had the edge over a team that went 8-10 in the No. 4 RPI league and lost to 12-21 DePaul its last time out.
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If you choose to leave the television sound on for tonight’s game, you might hear a familiar voice. Dan Dakich — who was hired to replace Gale Catlett as the WVU head coach in 2012, before running for the hills faster than a Pitt fan at the Boston Beanery on game day, opening the door for John Beilein — will serve as ESPN’s color analyst for tonight’s game.
Last year, on his radio show in Indianapolis, the 51-year-old Indiana native, who blows former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson off the charts when it comes to confidence, stated that he would have won multiple national championships had he remained at West Virginia.
Forget the fact that some of the game’s greatest coaches like Huggins, Beilein and Fred Schaus never won an NCAA title at WVU. Dakich, who had a stellar 89-89 record in the Mid-American Conference at Bowling Green — where he was fired after back-to-back campaigns of 9-21 and 13-18 — would have gotten it done. Never mind that Dakich never reached the NCAA Tournament in 10 seasons at BGSU. He would have reached the pinnacle of college basketball with the Mountaineers.
If that’s the type of “expertise” I’ll be getting, I think I’ll just take advantage of the mute button.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.