West Virginia drew the No. 2 seed in the East Regional and will face Morgan State on Friday at 12:15 pm in an opening-round NCAA Tournament game in Buffalo, N.Y. West Virginia, which features Wellington Smith (Summit, Sr.) among its starting five, sports a 27-6 record and won the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. If the Mountaineers prevail over Morgan State, they will then go on to face the winner of Clemson/Missouri on Sunday.
This season, West Virginia has faced only one of the other 15 teams in its bracket, that being Big East rival Marquette. The Mountaineers eked out a 63-62 win over the Milwaukee school in Morgantown, W.V. on December 29. The Warriors face Washington in the first round and could conceivably meet West Virginia in third-round action. Kentucky drew the top seed in the East Region and goes up against East Tennessee State on Thursday evening in New Orleans.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who has taken teams to the NCAA Tournament on 17 previous occasions, likes what he sees as his squad nears crunch time. "From the standpoint of them being ready, they go at it every day," Huggins said. "Mentally, sometimes, you let your guard down, but we talked to them about being in a tournament with three games in three days and everyone had to be ready, and I think they were [in the Big East Tournament]."
As for Morgan State, all Huggins could muster is that he's familiar with their coach, Todd Bozeman. Smith will undoubtedly be assigned to guard either Kevin Thompson or DeWayne Jackson, the second- and third-leading scorers on Morgan, averaging 12.8 and 10.1 points per game, respectively. An inside/outside combo, Thompson rarely strays from the paint, while Jackson is comfortable launching from the perimeter.
Although Morgan's conference, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is light years away from the Big East in depth, the Bears haven't shied from taking on tough non-conference opponents. They've faced six NCAA Tournament teams this year, defeating East Tennessee State, 72-61, and losing to Baylor, 79-63, Murray State, 75-66, Robert Morris, 78-75, Louisville, 90-81, and Minnesota, 94-64. They are 27-9 at this point in the season.
Smith has started all 33 games for West Virginia this season and is averaging 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. He is also the Mountaineers' top shot-blocking threat and frequently draws the most difficult defensive assignment.
CBS will telecast all Tournament games; if past custom is any guide, they will cut in and out of games that overlap time-wise. The only other games that might compete for air time with West Virginia/Morgan State on Friday are Temple/Cornell and Minnesota/Xavier.