CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Buoyed by another winning streak, the University of Charleston has hurdled one barrier and is closing in on another.UC (17-7, 14-6) has won the last four, clinching a first-round bye in the inaugural Mountain East Conference tournament. The top four teams in the 12-team league advance straight to the quarterfinals, beginning March 7 at the Charleston Civic Center.Speaking of four, that's were UC sits in the Atlantic Region rankings. With two regular-season games and the MEC tournament left, that's not bad position to finish among the top eight in the region and land in the NCAA Division II tournament.Still, games such as tonight's 7:30 home finale against Concord are very important. But the Golden Eagles aren't worried about the regional rankings."That's one of the things I love about our team," said UC coach Dwaine Osborne. "I have not had one player in our program say one thing about that ranking. I don't have to tell then to get refocused. That makes it a lot of fun. We focus on the next game and do the best we can."After suffering its second three-game losing streak of the season, the third-place Eagles have reeled off four wins in a row, last beating Notre Dame College 100-93 in overtime Saturday. Among the leaders were seniors Xavier Humphrey (33 points) and Fred Simpson (14 points, nine rebounds, five assists), who will be among those honored tonight in their final game at Eddie King Gym.On Humphrey, Osborne said, "He's meant a lot to our team with his play. He also means a lot to our program in establishing a culture we want our team to have. He's a lot of fun to be around, and on top of that he can play a little bit."On Simpson: "He's been huge for us this semester. We would not be where we are without him. Great, great kid. He's kind of a 'jack of all trades,' does a little bit of anything, intangibles."nn
The new Atlantic Region rankings are due out today, and two MEC teams have reason to be nervous.Glenville State (seventh) and Fairmont State (eighth) sit perilously at the end of the pecking order, and both lost games last week. Glenville may not be penalized for losing to region No. 1 West Liberty but Fairmont stands to take a hit from losing to Virginia-Wise.No. 5 Shepherd won its games last week, so the Rams and UC likely will stay put. Shepherd is tied with UC for third in the MEC.These rankings carry added importance, as the MEC will not have an automatic tournament bid this season and next, as per Division II bylaw. So a miracle run in the tournament by Urbana would go unrequited.nn
The MEC tournament format will change slightly from the old West Virginia Conference gathering. The biggest move is sliding the Civic Center rounds back a day, finishing on Sunday.
The women's quarterfinals will run on Thursday, March 6, with the men's quarters on Friday the 7th. All semifinals will take place Saturday March 8, with the championships on Sunday the 9th."Part of our goal with making the move to Sunday is to have as many games in the weekend as possible, while still concluding the tournament on Sunday [last possible day in Division II]," said commissioner Reid Amos. "We'll have a three-day weekend, instead of having the tournament down to two teams [on each side] Saturday."My hope is to have more people coming to Charleston."Another change: All first-round games will be played at campus sites on Tuesday, March 4, both men and women.If a campus is hosting a single game, that begins at 7 p.m. If it hosts women's and men's games, the standard doubleheader times of 5:30 and 7:30 will be used.nn
WVU Tech is preparing for its run into the NAIA postseason, finishing its season Saturday against Lindenwood University at Belleville (Ill.). The independent teams met in January in Montgomery, with the Golden Bears winning 94-74.That result doesn't mean much, as the Lynx are coming off a win over Campbellsville and are strong at home. "Even though we won by 20 here, we're underdogs," said Tech coach Bob Williams.The Golden Bears (18-11) have won 10 of their last 12 and just finished a 12-1 home season. Stephen Coles, a second-semester addition, leads six double-figure scorers on the team with 19 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Brandon Burgraff (15.0 points per game) has hit 92 3-point goals and is hitting 41.6 percent of his attempts.After Saturday, the Bears will prepare for the Association of Independent Institutions tournament in Marietta, Ga., which begins March 7. Tech hosted the event last year, and the winner again will advance to the NAIA Division I national tournament.The event includes California State-San Marcos, the top-ranked team in the entire NAIA, host Life University, Lindenwood-Belleville, Allen of Columbia, S.C., and Morris of Sumter, S.C. Williams said Saturday's game will be important for seeding."We'll be seeded anywhere from 2 to 4, most likely 3 or 4," Williams said. "If we lose [Saturday], we're definitely a 4."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.