As expected, West Virginia University’s men’s basketball team was selected to play in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
What was unexpected was the hit the 24-10 Mountaineers apparently took for losing to Big 12 champion Kansas in the recent league championship in Kansas City, Mo.
WVU made the conference finals by adding victories over Baylor and NCAA No. 3 seed Texas Tech (the second this season over the Red Raiders), but fell 81-70 to KU and was given a No. 5 seed on Sunday. The Mountaineers will play at the Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl.
“Fine with it,” said Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins. “We [at Cincinnati] played in San Diego in 2001 and I thought it was a great place to play. Great venue.”
Huggins was asked if he was bothered his team wasn’t given a No. 4 seed.
“I don’t know what goes into it, to be honest with you,” said the coach. “I was on the committee that was supposed to [fine tune the process]. And I’m still not sure what goes on. But whatever it is, you still have to go play.”
The tournament committee did place West Virginia in the East Region, but the Mountaineers will begin play in San Diego, Calif., on Friday against 26-5 and No. 12 seed Murray State, which won the Ohio Valley Conference championship. The game is set for approximately 3:45 p.m. It will be the second matchup of the day there.
If West Virginia wins on Friday, it will meet the winner of No. 4 seed Wichita State and No. 13 seed and in-state rival Marshall.
WVU will be making its 29th overall trip to the “Big Dance” and ninth in the past 11 seasons under Huggins. The Mountaineers have made the event 11 times in the past 14 years.
Last year, the Mountaineers were eliminated in the Sweet 16 in San Jose, Calif., by tournament runner-up Gonzaga, 61-58. It was West Virginia’s seventh Sweet 16 appearance since 1998 and 10th overall.
In Murray State, WVU will face a team that defeated Belmont, 68-51, in the OVC tournament title game to earn the school’s 16th NCAA tournament appearance. The Racers haven’t made the tournament since 2012 though.
Murray State lost twice in league play this year against Jacksonville State and Belmont with its other three losses coming against Middle Tennessee State, St. Louis and Auburn. The latter Tigers are a No. 4 seed in the tournament also set to play in San Diego. The Racers lost to AU but 81-77 back in December.
Murray State also defeated Wright State, another NCAA tournament team, 80-61 on the road. The Racers are led by point guard Jonathan Stark, the OVC Player of the Year and tournament MVP. He led the Racers’ league in scoring for a second straight year at 21.8 points a game.
“Beetle [Bolden] played with their point guard when he went to Europe this summer,” Huggins said. “Obviously, he’s pretty good if he’s [scoring 21.8] a game.”
This is the third season for Murray State coach Matt McMahon. He previously took the associate head coach position at Louisiana Tech, but moved back two weeks after accepting the job to work with now-Iowa State coach Steve Prohm at MSU.
McMahon was also a Mountaineer, playing college basketball at Appalachian State.
Huggins was asked on Sunday about the possibility of playing Marshall.
“Yeah,” he said. “Wichita State is pretty good. That will be a hard game, I think. But if Marshall could get them spread, they could very well get them.”
Huggins admitted it’s a long trip.
“I thought we were going to Boise,” he said. “[Kentucky coach John] Calipari texted me. He said we were going to play, so I figured it was going to be in Boise.”
The Mountaineer coach wasn’t disappointed to be in a separate bracket.
“I think both of us had enough losses this year,” he said. “It didn’t make sense.”