WVU Sports with Mike Casazza

‘I do know change is going to come.’

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Sometimes you have to tiptoe around a story. It’s not that topics are taboo or that you don’t know your way around a player or a locker room after 34 games with the player or the team. It’s that some subjects are just difficult to bring up with someone, no matter how obvious.

Slumps are one of those subjects.

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His first shining moment

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Part of the fun of watching the NCAA tournament, whether as a participant, a reporter or a spectator, is getting to know players who aren’t ordinarily in the spotlight. Certainly, Bucknell is not accustom to the spotlight. But Matt O’Reilly might look familiar. That’s him at the top in a commercial you may have seen before.

“I ended up having an opportunity to be in a Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial that aired during the NCAA tournament and aired during all the college tournaments and the NBA finals, which was pretty cool,” O’Reilly said.

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2017 NCAA Tournament: Media day

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BUFFALO, New York – Welcome to the KeyBank Center, downtown in The City of Good Neighbors. We’re shoulder-to-shoulder with West Virginia, Bucknell, Notre Dame, Princeton, Villanova, Mount St. Mary’s, Wisconsin and Virginia Tech.

It’s media day today. Here’s your relevant viewing schedule.

Practice Times
Princeton – Noon to 12:40 p.m.
Bucknell – 12:45 to 1:25 p.m.
Notre Dame – 1:30 to 2:10 p.m.
West Virginia – 2:15 to 2:55 p.m.

Press Conference Times
Princeton – 11:20 to 11:50 a.m.
Bucknell – 12:05 to 12:35 p.m.
Notre Dame – 12:50 to 1:20 p.m.
West Virginia – 1:35 to 2:05 p.m.

Let’s roll!

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CHRISTIAN TYLER RANDOLPH | Gazette-Mail WVU's Devin Williams (41) hangs his head as Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks bring the ball up court for the final position as time expires in the second half in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY on Friday March 18, 2016.

 

This is NCAA tournament No. 23 for Bob Huggins. He’s reached two Final Fours, two Elite Eights and two Sweet Sixteens. He’s also lost on the opening weekend a not-too-sweet 15 times, and he’s 16-6 in the opening game (and 7-9 in the second game).

Those 15 losses?

When he as at Akron: No. 5 Michigan in 1986.

At Cincinnati: Wisconsin in 1994, No. 8 UConn in 1995, No. 18 Iowa State in 1997, West Virginia in 1998, Temple in 1999, No. 18 Tulsa in 2000, No. 2 Stanford in 2001, UCLA in 2002 (in a double-overtime classic), Gonzaga in 2003, No. 13 Illinois in 2004, No. 7 Kentucky in 2005.

At WVU: Dayton in 2009, No. 11 Kentucky in 2011, Gonzaga in 2012 and Stephen F. Austin last season.

Nine of the 16 losses were to ranked teams. Some of the unranked teams were or still are good programs. Huggins had some really good, highly ranked teams that didn’t get through the first two weekends, and of the teams that beat Huggins, the ones that look weird are … well, the Mountaineers were nice in 1998. I guess Dayton and Stephen F. Austin look out of place.

Bucknell would look out of place, too, and Huggins doesn’t dismiss the possibility. He nearly did the unthinkable in 1986, and that set the stage for his career in the NCAA tournament.

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Let’s talk about practice

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West Virginia’s home away from the KeyBank Center is Daemen College, in Amherst, New York. The Mountaineers are working out there — one day more than expected, it turns out — and they’ll have a shootaround today at the arena they’re to play in tomorrow.

These practices are not merely important. They’re scrutinized.

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Bracket time!

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Here’s the link to our annual bracket competition.

And here’s a warning/reminder: I’m going to keep this post up top throughout the day and the early part of Wednesday. It’s going to be above other posts, because I want this to be what visitors see so they join. So when you visit, you’ll see this, and many of you will think, “Nothing new?” when in reality a new posts or new posts will be below it.

 

About Bucknell

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West Virginia is a 13 1/2-point favorite Thursday against Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It’s the largest point spread in a 4/13 matchup. It’s greater than what you’ll find in two of the 3/14 games. This means absolutely nothing, of course, but you get an idea of the perceived difference between these two programs.

One played in the Big 12, which has a No. 1 seed and a No. 3 seed above the Mountaineers and has some first-round picks on its rosters. The other played in the Patriot League, and Bucknell has only been awarding scholarships five years now. So you look at Bucknell’s statistics, and there’s a natural reaction. “Well, yeah, but that’s Patriot League competition.”

That’s not wrong, but it’s not right to say that, either. I’d like to begin there as we get to know the regular-season and tournament champion of the league that ranks No. 22 out of 32 in the RPI.

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Hooray for Mike Carey. The Big 12 women’s tournament champion didn’t get a home game, but West Virginia isn’t going far and isn’t opening the postseason on the opponent’s home floor. The Mountaineers, who went from the bubble to a No. 6 seed by beating ranked Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor and wiping out the top three seeds in succession to win tournament trophy, play No. 11 seed Elon Friday.

A second WVU v. Bucknell postseason game is a possibility. The Bison women are the No. 14 seed and play the hosts, the No. 3 seed Maryland. The winners play Sunday in College Park, Md., and the Mountaineers can’t wait to get the ball rolling again.

Sophomore Tynice Martin said that WVU’s run through the Big 12 tournament has injected the roster with a ton of confidence.

“It’s very high, especially off these big wins,” Martin said. “But we have to humble ourselves and know that we’re in a different season and have to play at that level as well.”

Martin, a unanimous All-Big 12 first-team selection and the Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, leads the Mountaineers with 18.6 points per game. Teana Muldrow is second on the team with 14.7 points per game.

There were rumblings that WVU (23-10) might even be able to sneak in as a host site for the first two rounds. ESPN.com projected last week that, if the Mountaineers were a No. 7 seed in the same bracket as No. 2 seed Stanford, a scheduling conflict at Stanford would allow the Mountaineers to host. But when the real bracket was revealed, WVU found itself a rung higher on the ladder.

It’s not home sweet home for WVU in the first two rounds, but it’s not too far away. And Martin said the Mountaineers aren’t too worried about where they rest their heads the night before their first game.

“Honestly, it doesn’t matter where we play,” Martin said. “If we’re focused and have energy, we can play with anybody anywhere. Everybody would have wanted us to stay here, but I feel we play better when we travel.”

Away they go

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Snow. In March. Of course. Maybe this is what Team Travel should have expected, but this is now what West Virginia wanted. That’s moving travel plans up 24 hours. That’s the team, the band, the cheerleaders and the administrators. That’s travel and lodging and meals. It might mean finding a one-off hotel with certain specifications (whirlpool, meeting space, vacancies, so on and so forth) and finding a one-off place to practice. It might also mean just adding a night to the front of whatever hotel the NCAA set aside and adding a practice to the front of whatever gym the Mountaineers were using. But 11th hour stuff is no fun right now.

And pity WVU’s travel coordinator. The women’s selection show is tonight, though there remains a possibility those Mountaineers are playing at home.

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Here come the Bison

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Early impression is WVU, a No. 4 seed and almost exactly as we expected, is in the easiest region, but Thursday’s opponent in Buffalo is another regular-season and tournament champion of a mid-major conference. We’ll get to know more about the No. 13 seed Bucknell tomorrow