MORGANTOWN — To this veteran observer, the first-round pairings for West Virginia men’s basketball for the NCAA Tournament couldn’t have been better.
The No. 5-seeded Mountaineers (23-9) will meet the No. 12 Buffalo Bulls (23-9) at 2:10 p.m. Friday in Columbus, Ohio. This will be Buffalo’s first-ever NCAA tourney appearance, having qualified as Mid-American Conference tournament titlist.
WVU is 1-1 against this school. Buffalo won the first meeting all the way back in 1918, 41-23 in Buffalo, N.Y. WVU won the rematch in a 91-42 blowout on Dec. 7, 1991, in Morgantown.
Hopefully, the 18th nationally ranked Mountaineers can win the opening game handily and advance to the NCAA bracket’s second round against the winner of a game between rival Maryland and Valparaiso on Sunday.
The site in Columbus for these games is the Nationwide Arena.
Even Bob Huggins, the Mountaineers’ veteran head coach, sounds like he couldn’t be happier with the setting for this event.
He told the media, “I think it’s great for our fans. It’s 200 miles from here. Our people can get to it (Columbus).
“Tickets will be an issue.”
West Virginia is seeking its first postseason victory since defeating Clemson 84-76 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament in Tampa, Fla. The Mountaineers did not qualify for the NCAAs the past two seasons.
But Huggins did a great job with this year’s young squad, despite injuries to key players. WVU lost one game, let another slip away in overtime, then knocked off Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale.
Senior starters Juwan Staten and Gary Browne not only had to sit out three games, but also had to sit on the bench with injuries during the Big 12 Conference Tournament loss to Baylor.
Happily, both of the guards are expected to be well enough to play in the NCAA Tournament. That should be a big boost in itself as the Mountaineers’ mindset is to go far in the NCAA this time.
If West Virginia should win two games, it could possibly play top-ranked Kentucky in the third round March 21 or 22.
Huggins and Co. would love to face such a situation and challenge. Of course, the goal is always to win it all.
The closest WVU came to capturing the championship was way back there in March 1959, when it finished as runner-up to California 71-70 in Louisville, Ky.
In case you’re not counting, that was 56 years ago. And I don’t believe Jerry West and his teammates on that ballclub still around have forgotten.
It was truly a heartbreaker.
The Bulls head coach is Bobby Hurley, who was Duke’s outstanding point guard. As a player, Hurley helped guide the Blue Devils to the national championship in both 1991 and 1992.
“I’m just glad he’s not the Bulls’ point guard,” said Huggins, who remembers him from his Duke stardom.
Buffalo earned its automatic NCAA berth by defeating Central Michigan 89-84 in the Mid American Conference tournament title tussle.
Tickets for the WVU-Buffalo game are limited with availability restricted to Mountaineer Athletic Club members. These went on sale Monday and the WVU ticket office said some could not be guaranteed.