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Sunday, March 20, 2005

West By God Virginia

West Virginia 111, Wake Forest 105. Double Overtime.

The sports reality TV screenwriters were at it again, this time writing stuff that was comparable to their work in creating the '75, '91 and '01 World Series as well as the 2004 American League Championship Series. The cast for the fish out of water part included a tattooed 7'2" center who is happier shooting the three, a 2G who had transferred to the Mountaineer state school by way of hoops Siberia (St. Bonaventure) and a 6'11" pivot man whose coming out party in the NCAA tournament happened more than three years ago at a low-DI school in the play-in game in Dayton (where he blocked about 9 shots). I blogged on the latter fellow before, but had not found the time or reason to talk about the outstanding if underpublicized coach or the cast of players that led this team to an improbable run off the bubble and into the Big East final.

The fish who owned the water featured a PG who gets more ink than the entire state of West Virginia and a center who takes up more space in the paint (and well) than almost any big man in college not named Sean May. It just turned out, after last night, that there just wasn't enough pirhana in these fish to defend what many thought was rightfully theirs.

Many of the prognosticators had forecasted that the fish out of water (or the climbers who sometimes had trouble scaling the mountain) would fall prey to a minor upset in Round 1 against Creighton, figuring that they had used up all of their energy to get into the Big East final.

They were wrong.

Many of the prognosticators figured that this Wake team would make it to the Final Four, thanks to outstanding outside shooting, solid inside play and the best PG in the land in Chris Paul.

They were wrong.

Last week on WFAN, Mike Francesa and Chris Russo interviewed Ga Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who commented on the ACC teams and their chances in the NCAA Tournament. When they got to Wake Forest, Hewitt was very complimentary, and, in his last sentence on Wake, he said, "I think they can step up their defense to get to the Final Four."

Hewitt was wrong; they didn't.

West Virginia was gritty through the entire game and didn't back down at all at any time. You might figure that the underdog could wilt under the pressure of overtime, but then you don't know West Virginia's shooting guard, Mike Gansey. He had 10 points in regulation and, get this, 17 in the overtimes. When the lights got brigher, Gansey wanted the rock.

And he delivered (as did Wake's superb outside shooter, Taron Downey, who almost single-handedly kept Wake in the game after both Justin Gray and Chris Paul fouled out).

The game was a classic, a real war of attrition, with three players fouling out on each side and many with four fouls at game's end. From the end of regulation and beyond, West Virginia was the aggressor. The Mountaineers pressed the action, and they dictated the temp. Yes, Paul had some coast-to-coast layups, and, yes, Downey was downright amazing, but it was the underdog team that was stuck on the bubble and in danger of falling off two weeks ago who were even better.

The top seeds, if they're lucky, get one game in the Big Dance which they can consider a tuneup. If they're really lucky, they'll get a second tuneup game, usually owing to a first-round upset where their now second-round opponent played out of its mind in the first round and has no energy left to do it again.

But that's only if they're really, really lucky.

Because this is the NCAA Tournament, and even those who are predicted to have no shot know that lose once and you're going home. Those teams know that this is their chance to shine, this is their chance to let the entire country know that they take their hoops seriously in Milwaukee, Stockton, California, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and Burlington, Vermont, not to mention Morgantown, West Virginia.

And it's all they know.

Those favorites playing to day had better watch out, because already Syracuse, Kansas and Wake Forest are gone from the tournament. In a way, the favorites playing today are lucky because they can learn from the very recent past and steel themselves against the efforts that they'll face today (not to mention the cheers for the underdog opponents that invariably result at neutral venues). Then again, they'll have had an extra day to think about what's coming, and to worry about it.

What sounds will we hear at the end of today?

The raucous cheers of the huge fan bases of the favorites?

Or the shouts of the smaller crowds supporting the lower seeds, in a collective chorus of "Timber!"?

Syracuse. Gone.

Kansas. Gone.

Wake Forest. Gone.

Who's next?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Connecticut. That's who.

(Sorry, I'm just now catching up on my blog reading.)


4:37 PM  
Blogger sporty said...

I cant read with this brown everywhere. Change your template!!!!!!!!!!!


6:06 PM  
Blogger sportmania said...

Conn, then Washington, then...

2:20 PM  

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