WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

Day Three , Vol. 1: Friday Feedback

The Feedback from New York City? A nickname for Joe Alexander? Bottles of BBQ sauce exploding on WVSports.com writers? Deja vu all over again?

Let’s stop there. I don’t mean to undervalue what’s going on right now with West Virginia’s basketball team. In fact, I want to individualize it. Thursday’s win was special, certainly the best of the season and the catapult into the NCAA Tournament, but comparisons to 2005 are really unfair.

Be honest: Are you that surprised? Did you not just hang with UConn 13 days ago? Didn’t Boston College beat WVU twice and by a combined 32 points in 2005. Weren’t fans booing WVU in the 20-point home loss to the Eagles that year? That rally was really unexpected. This? Not so much.

First and foremost, this team entered in a much better situation. In truth, the Mountaineers were in the NCAA Tournament after Wednesday’s win. The 2005 team needed to reach the semifinals. The 2005 team had a five-game losing streak at one point and finished 8-8 in the Big East. This team never lost more than two in a row, only had two losing streaks all season and finished 11-7 in a better conference.

At the same stage, this team is, quite simply, better. Why? Joe Alexander. We may be able to give the kid a nickname, too.

Broadway Joe.

I’d be stunned if this didn’t hit the back pages in New York City.

The comparisons to Kevin Pittsnogle, though, do warrant mentioning. Pittsnogle generated a greater buzz in 2005 — so, too, did the entire team as the Mountaineers dominated the back pages that year — and there are a few simple reasons. He was more appealing. West Virginia kid, tattoos, unique last name and a fascinating combination of range and accuracy that defied his size and position.

Alexander, on the other hand, is just killing people. He’s almost indefensible and he has a knack for creating — and making — his own shot that WVU fans haven’t see in a long, long time. He may very well be playing better than anyone in the country. If everyone knew his background, he’d be off the charts now.

That said, Georgetown has to go small on him tomorrow, perhaps with an Austin Freeman, and encourage Alexander to post the defender up. That way the double-team arrives and Alexander has to pass out. WVU isn’t hitting from the perimeter, so it’s a good gamble. One wonders if JT3 will be inclined to let Alexander roll, take his chances on the slumping shooters and simply shut Da’Sean Butler down.

Onto the Feedack. As always, comments appear as posted. 

Homer said:

Can you asterisk Joe Alexander’s first-team All-Big East honor? The guy has had a great season, but this awards inflation has to be capped or at least acknowledged.

1998 — Damian Owens become the first WVU player to make first-team and he earned it. One of FIVE selections — along with Rip Hamilton, Tim James, Pat Garrity and Felipe Lopez (of all people).

2001 — Calvin Bowman *really* earns it. He’s one of five, along with Preston Shumpert, Troy Murphy, Troy Bell and Nova’s Michael Bradley.

The following year, the team grows to seven. 2002-03 is a reasonable six. 2003-04 it’s seven. 2004-05 back to six.

The past three years, those teams have been jokes as the league bows to the whiny coaches who want everybody to get a blue ribbon and an ice cream cone.

2005-06 — Gansey and Pittsnogle joined by NINE OTHER PLAYERS — Eric Hicks, Rudy Gay, Steve Novak, Chris Quinn, Aaron Gray, Allan Ray, Gerry McNamara, Randy Foye and QUINCY DOUBY. Pick the best five there, or even six or seven. Gansey and Pittsnogle probably still make it.

2006-07 — Frank Young joins 10 OTHER GUYS — some of whom I don’t even remember playing from a year ago — Colin Falls, Aaron Gray, Herbert Hill, Lamont Hamilton, Demetris Nichols, Curtis Sumpter, Russell Carter (!?!?!), Dominic James and Dr. Roy Hibbert.

This year, another 10 guys joining Alexander: Gransberry, Brian Laing, Sam Young, Kyle McAlarney, Luke Harangody, David Padgett, Hibbert, AJ Price, Jeff Adrien and Deonta Vaughn. You’re telling me that stellar list can’t be pared down by 4 or 5 guys?

Bottom line: Marcus Goree’s second-team selection in 1999 on the worst WVU team EVER means more than Alexander’s inflated pick. Goree had to take second behind Hamilton, Tim James, Johnny Hemsley, Jamel Thomas and Ron Artest.

He was joined on the second by El-Amin, Murphy, Etan Thomas and Bootsy Thornton, plus integrity.  

I loved this. It set off wild debates between me and people I know and trust. The size of the all-conference team now is both misleading and infuriating. It’s a delicate balance. I’m sure coaches, athletic directors and presidents had worries about all-league teams when the Big East expanded, so this must have been an agreed upon issue. That said, coaches do, in fact, have too much influence on simply getting their guys on there. I always say the max should be eight people. That’s basically a good college team: five starters and three reserves. Let’s begin with 2005-06: I say it’s Gay (Player of the Year), Hicks, Foye, Gansey, Pittsnogle, McNamara, Ray and Novak. Last year, it’s Jeff Green (Player of the Year), James, Hibbert, Nichols, Hill, Carter, Falls and Hamilton … and I’m stretching near the end. This year, it’s Harangody (Player of the Year), Padgett, Price, Adrien, Young, Vaughn, Hibbert and Alexander … and again I’m strecthing. The point, I suppose, is that maybe my eight is too big and it should be six or seven. It need not be diluted.

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Day Two, Vol. 2

We all have questions like “How did that happen?” and comments like “Holy crap, WVU just outrebounded UConn by 16.” Fire away and we’ll discuss.

I’ve really tried by scanning the Internet for countless projections, but I can’t find anyone — anyone — who excludes WVU from the NCAA Tournament. Barring the revelation Cam Thoroughman is actually a German pro named Kristof Gresch and WVU must forfeit all 14 games in which Gresch has played, the Mountaineers are in.

So, no, I don’t know what ESPN’s sound byte du jour Doug Gottlieb is up to. Nor do I care. He makes good points, but they’re not valid this year. There are probably somewhere between 12 and 16 teams behind WVU. It’s that kind of year and the bubble talk isn’t that exciting. That’s not good business for TV. If anything, Gottlieb is guilty of intensifying the discussion with his unrelenting pressure on WVU.  Or I could be wrong. Maybe Gottlieb is just backwards.

For the record, WVU’s Alex Ruoff has the solution.

“In my opinion, we’re in and I feel pretty good about that, but we can silence all the critics by beating UConn.”

Other things to digest before Villanova beats plays Georgetown at noon…

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New York Minutes, Day One, Vol. 2

Villanova smoked Syracuse, 82-63, and owned the second half. Corey Stokes, Dwayne Anderson and Scottie Reynolds got hot and the Wildcats pulled away. Once it got to be a 10-point game, it was pretty much assumed Syracuse would crumble. On cue, the defense developed a habit of allowing easy baskets and the offense consisted almost exclusively of a guard dribbling inside and passing outside, where a teammate would pump-fake, step in and force a jumper.

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New York minutes

The curse has extended into tragic new areas. Yesterday was delightfully uneventful. No trouble getting to the airport, getting to Newark, getting to the hotel, getting to New York City and getting back to the hotel. It was so good, in fact, that someone traveling with me — he’ll remain nameless, but it rhymes with Mustin Mackson — commented that “This is going as good as it possibly could.”

“(Insert expletive).”

I walked to an adjacent hotel for dinner last night and, I kid you not, when I walked back to my hotel there was an ambulance outside … and those were the only lights. Apparently someone was working on the wiring at the hotel –at 10 p.m., mind you — and electrocuted himself. The power was out and had been for about 40 minutes. There are probably about 50 hotels in the airport area and I’m in the one where a guy working late electrocutes himself and knocks the power out. Amazing!

As I came up on the hotel I saw the Charleston Gazette’s Dave Hickman and the Dominion Post’s Justin Jackson wearing looks of disbelief. We sat outside for about a half-hour and had a few good laughs.

“The wake up calls ought to be interesting.”

“Has anybody told us what’s going on?”
“No, they’re keeping us in the dark.”

“Well, I’m going to head up the stairs…where the hell are the stairs?”

“I like how all these people drive up to the hotel, then immediately leave.”
“Imagine if they went inside. ‘Do you have any rooms?’ ‘Yes, but we have no power.'”

I went inside to see if they could put me up in another room at a partnering hotel across the parking lot and as I was waiting in line someone asked the person behind the desk if the man taken away by ambulance was all right.

“He’s fine. He was conscious and talking when he left, but he’s in sho–.”

Oh, I’m the bad guy? 

I was told the power could be all night and decided to switch rooms. The power promptly came back on. You can’t make this stuff up.

Anyhow, a few thoughts before the I-guarantee-you-it’ll-be-great Syracuse-Villanova game at noon.

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If I can make it there…

…wait, you were waiting for me to say “I can make it anywhere” to complete the “New York, New York” lyric as some lame intro to today’s pre-Big East Tournament post. No! Rather, if I can make it there, it’ll be a small miracle. The way I’m going with travel, I’m legitimately scared to check a bag because I know it’ll get lost. I’m instead stuffing a few days’ worth of clothes into a carry-on. I’ll do laundry if I must. The last time I packed short, WVU was in the the Big East Tournament final in 2005.

Anyhow, we’re in the midst of the best week of the year and a day away from the best conference tournament of the year. Just ask Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun.

It’s become something else. It’s the conference championship, but it’s an event. Before the league was probably playing for a lot of reasons, financial and otherwise, like to play in the NCAA Tournament, but now we play because it’s a really special basketball weekend. With the quality and the depth of teams coming in, there’s no question it’ll be an incredible week of basketball. If you love basketball, New York City is the place to come to. This is my 22nd tournament and it has grown and become more and more special every year. This year, in my own personal opinion, there is more depth and more quality in the league than there has been at any one time.

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Introducing WVU football mottos for 2008

You didn’t have to be a member of the media covering Bill Stewart’s interim reign at the Fiesta Bowl to tell there was something dramatically different, though equally effective, when compared to his predecessor. Through that week, his “Aw shucks” demeanor and mastery of the message he wanted to send was unmistakable.

We wondered, though, what the pregame speech would be like and how his players would react because even now you have to admit Rich Rodriguez was a motivational maestro and WVU was going to need ample ammunition to beat Oklahoma.

Sometime tonight, Stewart will step into the locker room and face perhaps his biggest challenge in replacing his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez had a way with words right before the game and he’d deliver a message that motivated the Mountaineers beyond their comprehension.

“He was very fiery and brought a lot of passion,” defensive lineman Keilen Dykes said. “He’d get you going, get you ready to go out there and just dominate.”

Stewart is decidedly calmer and speaks with a sense of authority. No doubt that’s a result of his time spent as head coach at VMI from 1994-96 and as an assistant at Navy and Air Force. His players, enthralled by his interviews and speeches this week, are eager to see what he has planned this evening in his first pre-game speech in 11 years.

“Obviously, he has a military background and he talks to you that way as if you’re all ready to go out there and not actually go to war, but go into a game as if it was a battle against the opponent,” safety Ryan Mundy said. “I’m ready for it. His communication pattern is different, but it’s still very effective. He gets people going and everyone listens to him. Everyone respects who he is and what he has to say.”

Well, we obviously saw that Stewart knows a few things about inspiration and we know the result of his carefully chosen words. We now know what those words were and I can see the T-shirts next fall:

“Leave no doubt tonight.”
“They shouldn’t have played the old gold and blue.”
“Don’t leave your wingman.”

That’s a wrap

Wonderful game in the Garden Saturday, which was good for WVU in so many ways, including, of course, that it ended in victory. Yet it was a perfectly timed simulation of what to expect in the Big East Tournament this week and — is it safe to say this? — in the NCAA Tournament next week. You really had to see the Mountaineers discussing the final play of regulation in the huddle. It was intense, which means it’ll be a little less intense the next time — and you know WVU will find itself in a huddle again soon planning a play with the game or perhaps even the season on the line.

When Joe Mazzulla scored, the bench erupted and you could sense a season’s worth of frustrations in similar situations fade away a little. Jamie Smalligan battled through a group of people to find Mazzulla and hug him. There was no way they were losing in overtime. None.

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Friday Feedback

(Edit: Oh, boy, did I butcher the opening to the original post. Thought next Friday was good Friday. Got my dates confused. Thanks to Homer for pointing it out. We’ll procede without the clever stupid intro and get right to the content. Plus, I’ve got to head to the airport so I may endure more delays and hopefully arrive in Newark, N.J., some time before tip-off tomorrow. And despite my bad memory, yes, I know the game is in NYC. I choose to stay in Newark. Not because of the lower hotel prices, but because of the scenery.)   

Granted, there are still games left to be played and those who have followed WVU know that one game can change everything, but if I’m a coach entering the Big East Tournament next week, there are a few teams I wouldn’t want to mess with. One is West Virginia — defense, guards, shooting, Joe Alexander. That list would also include Lousiville (obvious), Seton Hall (streaky with a NYC presence) and Providence (the enigma). Guess what! WVU probably plays Providence or Seton Hall in the first round.

Earlier in the season, a colleague and I looked at the Big East and picked the sleeper team, a prediction that has enjoyed a great history of accuracy through the years. We agreed Providence was it … and laughed about it last month as chants of “Fire Welsh” came from the Friars student section. Yet here we are now, on the eve of the mini dance, and P.C. completes a season sweep of Connecticut! The Friars have a bunch of good pieces and if the coach, Tim Welsh, can align them properly — and consistently — look out. He may have saved his job, too. The roster is all underclassmen, so why make a change when it’s perhaps been building to next season? Or even this week?

Onto the Feedback. As always comments appear as posted.

thacker said:

That was a damn good ballgame. Don’t know about Huggins’ suits or lapel flowers but did notice Boyd in the background of one of the crowd shots during the telecast.

Boyd is a hell of lot more important than Huggins’ apparel in winning ball games. Get that kid on the road during the NCAA.

Forgive this tangent, but it has to happen. Ryan J. Boyd is indispensable. There. I said it. His performance Monday night was memorable. It was a 40-30 WVU lead at the half and the Mountaineers scored the first five points of the second half. I have to think they were setting the stage. Pitt called a timeout, the music hit and the crowd went wild. RJB did his thing, then went to mid-court and fired up the rest of the crowd. Everyone was on their feet, the second verse started and RJB went back to work, only to be cut off. Huggins should have called a timeout immediately. As it was, WVU went on a 9-2 run and the game was over. Over. As for RJB in the NCAAs, it has to happen. He has some sort of association with the pep band, which travels with the team, so maybe it’ll happen. If not, I and we will make it happen. WVU basketball resurfaced in the 2004-05 season and the record at home is 53-8 since the beginning of that season. I’ve covered all but a few games this year when I was instead with the football team for road games. I covered just a few last year for reasons I can’t and won’t explain, but instead need to be studied by a psychologist. Or a jury. So let’s say I’ve covered 45 of those home games and did not witness last year’s lone home loss to Pitt. I don’t believe RJB became a “fixture” until the 2005-06 Sweet 16 season. I could be wrong. Still, I can think of only a handful of instances when RJB hasn’t danced and I’m pretty sure WVU has lost two of those games — Cincinnati this year, LSU in 2005-06.

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The ups and downs of Chris Beatty

Chris Beatty calls the recent events in his life an “interesting deal” as he shakes his head and chuckles at the memories of everything that’s happened. Granted, this will happen to anyone who’s in the business long enough, but he’s been a college coach for barely two years. You really need to wrap your brain around what he’s been through to get an idea what his life has already been like.

“It’s been a bit eye-opening. You sit back and watch things happen and you read about things in the newspaper and you think you know what’s going on. You have no idea what’s going on until you’re involved in those things. You never really realize what’s going on until you experience it.” 

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