If you are a West Virginia basketball fan, recent memory suggests that many times when it comes to NCAA tournament seeding, they are unable to catch a break. Whether it is having to fly from San Diego to Boston only to play No. 1 seed Villanova or being a No. 3 seed and playing an unappreciated Stephen F. Austin team and then losing in the first round. This year, however, seems to be different.
On Sunday night, when the NCAA Tournament field was revealed, I think West Virginia fans everywhere could agree with head coach Bob Huggins in being pleased with how the bracket turned out for the Mountaineers.
The Mountaineers will be in the midwest region of this year’s bracket. The No. 1 seed in this region is Illinois, with the No. 2 seed being Houston. Not only, were the Mountaineers able to avoid having to be in the same region as Gonzaga, but they were able to be in a region with a No. 2 seeded Houston team that has struggled mightily at times to score the ball this year.
Besides, the only way the Mountaineers will face No. 1 seed Illinois is if they meet in the Elite Eight, and by looking at the top of the Midwest region that is all but guaranteed for the Big 10 Tournament champions.
The matchups in the region are as follows:
No. 1 Illinois vs No. 16 Drexel: Friday 1:15 p.m.
No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs No. 9 Georgia Tech: Friday 4:00 p.m.
No. 5 Tennessee vs No. 12 Oregon State: Friday 4:30 p.m.
No. 4 Oklahoma State vs No. 13 Liberty: Friday 6:25 p.m.
No. 6 San Diego State vs No. 11 Syracuse: Friday 9:40 p.m.
No. 3 West Virginia vs No. 14 Morehead State: Friday 9:50 p.m.
No. 7 Clemson vs No. 10 Rutgers: Friday 9:20 p.m.
No. 2 Houston vs No. 15 Cleveland State: Friday 7:15 p.m.
The first big takeaway I make from this region is how hard the top of this region will be to get out of. Assuming Illinois takes care of business on Friday afternoon, they will be slotted to play Loyola Chicago or Georgia Tech, both of whom could trigger an upset early in the round of 32. Loyola Chicago ranks first in the country allowing only 55.5 points per game and Georgia Tech is coming off an ACC Tournament Championship led by point guard Jose Alvarado and are one of the hottest teams in the country right now, being on an eight-game winning streak.
The next two matchups have the potential to be very interesting as well. Tennessee should beat an Oregon State team that won the Pac 12 Tournament but has not been that good all year, but where things get interesting is between Oklahoma State and Liberty. In 2019, Liberty was a No. 12 seed and defeated No. 5 seed Mississippi State and will look to pull a similar upset against the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. Liberty is led by guard Darius McGhee who averages just under 16 points per game. This Liberty team can cause problems for Oklahoma State in the first round. Oklahoma State, however, is no slouch either. Led by one of the best players in the country in Cade Cunningham, the Cowboys ended their season with a pair of wins against West Virginia and a win against Baylor before losing to Texas in the Big 12 Championship game. This Oklahoma State team can play with anyone and they have a superstar in Cade Cunningham that could take them on a deep run in the tournament this year.
As we move down the region, we next have Syracuse vs San Diego State. Many wondered if Syracuse would even get in the tournament, but they did and they will play the Mountain West champions San Diego State Aztecs. San Diego State could pose problems for Syracuse’s zone as they will most likely be able to spread the zone out and be able to get inside and score points. No matter what though, you can never count out a low seeded Syracuse team from making a run in March.
As for West Virginia’s opponent Morehead State, the Mountaineers will look to continue their strong shooting from the regular season. Morehead State won the Ohio Valley Conference this year beating conference power Belmont. The Eagles will pose a challenge to the Mountaineers but this should be a good opportunity for the Mountaineers to win a first-round game and advance to the second round.
Clemson and Rutgers both play really good defense and sometimes struggle to score the ball, but I think Rutgers can make a run in this region. Getting outside of the Big 10 should help Rutgers who beat Illinois earlier in the season. Clemson struggled at times in the ACC and lost to a bad Miami team in the ACC Tournament. If Clemson can score the ball enough their defense could take them on a surprise run this March.
Houston might be the worst No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament. Houston has shown their ability to lose this year which will play to the advantage of whoever they play down the road. They will play Cleveland State in the first round and if Houston can get enough offensive rebounds and get steady shot-making, they can make a run deep into this tournament.
Looking at all of the teams in this region, it is pretty miraculous that the Mountaineers were able to get the No. 3 seed ahead of No. 4 seed Oklahoma State who beat the Mountaineers twice to end the season. Unlike past years, the Mountaineers have teams in their region that have shown some flaws throughout the season. The Mountaineers should be feeling confident as they will likely be able to make a deep run to at least the Sweet 16 and will look to make it to their first Final Four since 2010.
The Mountaineers will tip-off against Morehead State on Friday, March, 15 at 9:50 p.m. on truTV at Lucas Oil Stadium.
(Top Photo: Dale Spark)