Big welcome to the MEC

Chip Ellis
Denzel Douglas and the UC men take on Wheeling Jesuit at noon Friday at the Civic Center.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the first of three basketball-laden weeks at the Charleston Civic Center, the new will have the flavor of old, and the old shall become brand new.The inaugural Mountain East Conference tournament hits the floor today at noon sharp, with West Liberty's women taking on Virginia-Wise.Much like the West Virginia Conference tournament of previous years, it's all about the women on day one - but it's a Thursday, a day later. That's part of the MEC strategy of running the event from Thursday through Sunday, with the thought of getting more fans to the capital city for a long weekend.Those fans could see the same results as the last four years in the men's bracket. West Liberty, beaten just twice and ranked third in the latest national poll, is continuing its helter-skelter, 100-point pace under coach Jim Crutchfield.On the women's side, Glenville State has returned to the top of the standings, still featuring its rapid-firing, five-subs-at-a-time attack. Like West Lib's men, Glenville's women won the MEC regular-season title by a comfortable margin, and have been beaten twice in conference.The local flavor remains in both University of Charleston teams and, for the first time in several years, the West Virginia State women. But new uniforms will be seen on the Civic Center floor: the Notre Dame College men and the women's teams from Virginia-Wise and Urbana.Gone for this year and next is the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the price of launching a new conference. But the stakes are plenty high as far as the Atlantic Region rankings are concerned.On the women's side, Glenville is trying to hopscotch Gannon (Pa.) for the top spot in the Atlantic and the right to host the eight-team region tournament. West Liberty (seventh) and Fairmont State (eighth) are trying to hold on to berths, while UC (10th) is trying to crash the party.
West Lib and Fairmont could collide in the semifinals Saturday afternoon; UC's chances rest on a run to the finals.The men's quarterfinals are played Friday, with six teams ranked in the Atlantic Region's top 10. West Liberty sits atop the region and is trying to host, with UC probably safe at fourth and Fairmont State (sixth), Shepherd (seventh), Glenville (eighth) and West Virginia Wesleyan (ninth) battling for perhaps three positions.That makes two quarterfinal games Friday doubly interesting - No. 3 seed Glenville against No. 6 Shepherd at 2:15 p.m., with No. 4 seed Fairmont against No. 5 Wesleyan in the 8:15 nightcap. The Glenville-Shepherd winner may face UC in the semifinals Saturday evening, with the Fairmont-Wesleyan winner knocking heads with West Liberty.All-session reserved tickets are available for $40, with all-session general admission seats $30. Single-session tickets are $12 and $9, with $5 student tickets (with valid ID) and youth tickets $4.The Sunday championships will air on tape delay on three regional networks - Root Sports Pittsburgh, Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic and Time Warner Cable SportsChannel Ohio.A veteran crew will broadcast the games: John Sanders on the play-by-play, Frank Giardina as the analyst and Mark Martin serving as host and sideline reporter.The Root telecast will be aired next Wednesday, with the women's game at 6 and the men's game at 8.
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