OK, how many of you got your March Madness bracket busted by putting West Virginia University's Basketball Team in the national championship game? Anyone have them winning it all against Pitt like I did?
That's what I did in one bracket I played. Any chance I had to stay in contention ended abruptly last Friday afternoon when Dayton sent West Virginia packing with a 68-60 whipping in the first round of the mid-west regional of the NCAA Tournament. No, I did not expect WVU to win the national championship, but as I hurriedly filled out my bracket at 6:30 Thursday morning, I could not resist the temptation to send the Mountaineers down the line.
When I played WVU out to the end, I liked the prospect of playing Pitt for the championship. Just so you know, if I were playing a higher stakes game, neither of those teams would have been in my final four. Just imagine how much fun it would have been to watch that matchup develop though.
Many West Virginia fans were irritated when the tournament field was announced and some of the basketball pundits claimed that Dayton over WVU was a good pick if you were looking for an 11 seed to upset a six seed. I too was irritated by such language, but I also knew there was some merit to it. Still, looking at the bracket I saw no individual matchup that would be a game WVU could not win. By the same token, I knew Dayton could present problems, especially if West Virginia did not shoot well. That being said, any other team in the region that can shut down Alex Ruoff and Da'Sean Butler would have a great chance to win.
Dayton, however, was very athletic and played an in your face man to man defense to which the Mountaineers responded with an 18 for 49 shooting. West Virginia was 5-20 beyond the arc, but the real tale here was Butler going 0-6 and Ruoff going 1-4 on three point attempts.
Something else missing against Dayton's aggressive defense was getting loose for more back door hoops. Dayton should get props for their defensive game plan. WVU, not so much for not coming up with a solution.
So it goes. Many WVU fans have been left to lament about how much better this team could have been had Joe Alexander stayed for his senior season and had Joe Mazzulla not been injured. Having the two Joes in the lineup this season would have been great, but that is not the deck which was dealt.
On the other side of the coin, much has speculated about the promising future of the basketball program at WVU. With Ruoff being the only senior on the roster it would be hard to not be very optimistic. Butler should be returning for his senior season. He has made steady progress since he was a freshman, and any improvement from now to his senior year will bode well for West Virginia's chances next season.
What really is promising is the return of three freshmen who came a long way in their first season. Devin Ebanks became a star down the stretch. The 6-9 Ebanks can do so much on the court it is scary to think how good he can become. He got close to 20 rebounds several times this season. He handled the ball at the point at times when WVU went point guard by committee and he can score. Ebanks' biggest attribute may be his selflessness. He can score, but he is patient and did not force the issue. Very nice for a much heralded freshman.
Daryl Bryant was a freshman thrust into starting at the point when Mazzulla went down early in the season. Bryant came to WVU very highly regarded also, but playing the point as a freshman in the Big East, especially this year, offers plenty of obstacles. Bryant struggled at times, sometimes often, but he kept getting after it. Down the stretch he continued to make mistakes, but it became even more clear as to how much upside Bryant has. If Mazzulla can recover from his injury, he and Bryant will make the point guard position one of strength for WVU next year.
The final freshman to have made himself heard this season was Kevin Jones. At 6-8, 225 Jones is a good sized player, but he has a frame which will allow him to become a much stronger player. His shot is still a little inconsistent, but in the last third of the season we saw what we can expect from Jones. In a word, toughness.
What we can't project right now is what the entire roster will look like next year. Coach Bob Huggins has four new players entering the program next year and just one senior departing. Sounds like some changes are in store.