The West Virginia Mountaineers are going back to their old stomping grounds. Is it Buffalo, where the Mountaineers started their 2010 Final Four run? Nope. Is it the NCAA tournament in general, where they have been a frequent member over the last several seasons? Close, but that’s not it, either.
West Virginia is back to being the disrespected underdog. And honestly, fans could not be happier.
It is a general feeling that over the years, no matter the sport, that the Mountaineers fare better when all the national experts tell them that they “cannot, will not, and have no chance.”
And although WVU is 26-8, finished second in the Big 12 conference regular season and conference tournament, those same experts have come out in full force—outside of a couple who do have WVU winning a few games.
After last season’s first round loss to Stephen F. Austin, I can understand a little skepticism. Heck, even the fans have the nervous feeling thinking it can happen again, and it most certainly can. But when they get that added extra motivation from the national media who is consistently talking about Gonzaga, Arizona, Florida State and Notre Dame out of the West bracket, West Virginia becomes a sleeping giant.
The loss to the Lumberjacks last year was a wakeup call to the players about being the hunted rather than the hunter. Now, even though the fourth-seeded Mountaineers are a 13-point favorite over Bucknell, they are still feeling the disrespect all around.
“They can say what they want,” said senior center Brandon Watkins.
“We didn’t win last year, we got put out in the first round so we are just taking it one game at a time. They talk about Gonzaga and whatever; they can. It’s us against everybody. That’s how we feel,” Watkins concluded.
One way to improve from game to game is to not worry about who is put in front of you on the schedule but rather worry about your own team and that’s exactly what WVU’s plan is this week.
“We try not to pay attention to that. We pay attention to the media, but that can be motivation, but we just focus on us,” Esa Ahmad said.
Senior guard Teyvon Myers has taken notice maybe more than any other player on the team of the disrespect that is being shown. The New York native has something he has been carrying around for extra motivation.
“So they got us losing to Bucknell as you can see right here,” as he pulled out a copy of a bracket online that had Bucknell advancing to the round of 32.
“I’m just going to carry this in my side pocket to make sure. I’m going to make sure we get past that round. I’m just going to whip the paper out one more game and I’m going to show them. For right now, I’m going to keep it in my pocket.”
When asked if the pick against WVU was warranted, Myers, as he always does, flipped it to a positive outlook.
“I feel like we had some flashbacks. This team is resilient and has a lot of ambition. We stick together through the tough and through the good. I just feel like sometimes we play down a level. We play hard longer than anybody in the country. That’s what West Virginia does,” he said.
There have been many times that the Mountaineers have been counted out. Games like the Sugar Bowl against Georgia in 2005, the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma in 2008 and the famous 70-33 Orange Bowl over Clemson in 2012 are some memorable football contests that come to mind, and in basketball there was defeating Duke in Huggins’ first year in the NCAA’s and of course the win over Kentucky in 2010 to reach a final four.
So sometimes it is better to be disrespected. Even some players will admit it definitely adds fuel to the fire.
“I kind of like it this way better,” said Tarik Phillip, the Big 12 sixth man of the year.
“Give them something to talk about after the games. They aren’t saying too much right now, but I take it like that. I like it this way.”
“We can’t control what other people think. Other teams come to play every night. We just can’t let up. We just got to play the best way we can,” added Daxter Miles, Jr.
Remember in that Fiesta Bowl when ESPN asked the nation who would win and the whole map was red except for just that little tiny blue spot on the right hand side? The state of West Virginia will get behind this team. It’s a new basketball season now. It’s win or go home.
So buckle up, Mountaineer fans. The team is back in familiar territory and like I stated above, that could be a VERY good thing.
The Mountaineers play Bucknell Thursday, March 16 at 2:45 PM and will be televised on CBS.