The NCAA selection committee did everyone looking for a Cinderella a huge favor by placing West Virginia in the West as a seven seed. Just like in their tournament appearances in 2005 and 2006, the Mountaineers are poised to make a run to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.
Coach Bob Huggins had a laundry list of available excuses to use if his team failed to win this year. Chief among them was that he inherited a team perfect for John Beilein's system. Beilein's system is predicated much more on shooting and forcing turnovers than rebounding.
Huggins demands that his teams rebound and play tight man-to-man defense. As for that list of excuses, he did not want it or even need. After being picked to finish 10th in the conference, they finished five spots better. The Mountaineers quietly won 20+ games including five out of the last six. With coach Huggins' past tournament experience and success, he has what it takes to coach a team all the way.
If you are looking for someone that embodies what Huggins wants out of his team, look no further than Joe Alexander. It took him awhile to find his way in the system, mainly do to a groin injury, but now he is the "go-to guy." Alexander had back to back 32 point games to finish the regular season and then followed it up by scoring 22 and 34 in the first two games of the Big East tournament.
One more remarkable Alexander thought: This is the same guy that did not score a single point in the NIT final against Clemson last year.
Another player who epitomizes what Huggins is about is Darris Nichols. While he only averages 11 points a game, he has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big East. Despite his relatively low scoring average, he has a knack for taking and making big shots. Nichols is a senior who knows what it takes to make a run in NCAA tournament because he was an integral part of the last two runs.
The Mountaineers have also been in some close games with tournament bound teams. They had a two point loss to Tennessee, a one point loss on a controversial no-call to Georgetown, and a one point loss to Pitt. In all of those games poor free-throw shooting cost WVU, but that has developed as a strong point over the last month or so.
The Mountaineers got a pretty favorable draw as well, considering that they won't have to face a big time center until UCLA in the Regional Final. Also the last time they made a run at the Final Four it came as a seven seed out of the West.
Don't be fooled either. The Mountaineers might not rely as heavily on the three-pointer as they did a couple of years ago, but they still can shoot from out there averaging just over seven a game. The big difference is they can now rebound, averaging 36 a game.
WVU may not be as stunning as the '05 team, but this year's team can shoot it from deep and plays tough defense, making the Mountaineers a team no one wants to play.