If there’s one thing that the top four seeds can say about themselves in the Mountain East Conference men’s basketball tournament, they all seem to have a fighting chance.
Of those top four seeds — No. 1 West Liberty, No. 2 Charleston, No. 3 Fairmont State and No. 4 West Virginia State — only one of those teams has been able to sweep one of the other three in the regular season. Fairmont State took both from WVSU, though the Falcons needed a late 3-pointer to best the Yellow Jackets in Fairmont.
Otherwise, every team in that foursome has beaten the others once. On one hand, it shows all four they have the ability to win the conference title. On the other hand, it also shows them they can fall before they get to the top.
The MEC men’s and women’s tournaments begin Wednesday in Wheeling’s Wesbanco Arena with first-round games. Of the four local teams in the mix, only West Virginia State’s women play Wednesday. They’re the No. 9 seed playing No. 8 West Liberty at 2:15 p.m.
The No. 3 seed UC women wait until 2:15 Thursday to face No. 6 Fairmont State. On the men’s side, WVSU plays No. 5 Wheeling at 8:15 p.m. Friday, while the Golden Eagles kick off Friday’s play at noon against the winner between West Virginia Wesleyan and Urbana.
That the Golden Eagles’ opponent will be a mystery until Wednesday evening doesn’t exactly excite UC coach Dwaine Osborne, but he has the team getting ready for anything, going over film of both games against both possible opponents.
The newly crowned MEC Coach of the Year said, regardless of the foe, he has confidence in his group. Not only is it talented — Drew Rackley and Devon Robinson were named to the All-MEC first team and Lamont McManus was a second-teamer — its chemistry is top-notch as well.
“I feel like we’re really connected,” Osborne said. “I think we have great relationships. They genuinely care about each other. When you care about someone or something, you really want to play hard or work hard.”
UC (23-5, 17-5) is 18-3 over its last 21 games and enters the tournament on a six-game win streak. State (18-9, 13-9) isn’t as hot, losing three of its last four. But the Yellow Jackets have talent in All-MEC first-teamer Glen Abram, All-MEC second-teamer and former Capital standout Anthony Pittman and honorable mention recipient Jeremiah Moore.
Yet WVSU coach Bryan Poore isn’t thinking about how his team has fared against the other top four seeds. State has a challenge before facing any one of them. Wheeling was picked to finish last in the conference in the preseason but has a 14-12 overall record entering the tournament.
“I’m not going to have to worry about effort,” Poore said. “It’s tournament time. It’s one and done. I think the effort will be there. Now it’s going to be a matter of executing a game plan and doing all the little things — 50-50 balls, taking care of the basketball and not turning it over too much.”
The UC women (22-6, 17-5) would like to get at least back to the spot they reached last season, playing Glenville State for the tournament title. The Golden Eagles will feature All-MEC first-teamer Anna Hayton, second-teamer Brooklyn Pannell and MEC Freshman of the Year Dakota Reeves. Charleston is 2-2 in its last four games.
WVSU’s women (9-19, 7-15) have the longest possible path of the tournament, needing four wins for a conference title. The Yellow Jackets, led by All-MEC honorable mention Charity Shears, enter the tournament on a five-game losing streak.