— Oh, yes. They make terrific pair. They went together like lamb and tuna fish
— Lamb and tuna fish?
— Maybe you like spaghetti and meatball? You more comfortable with that analogy?
Actually, I like lamb and tuna fish, so we’re sticking with that.
WVU is back in the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. It’s becoming a March tradition. The only blemish on that statistic is 2007, a year in which we won the NIT. Not the greatest parting gift, but it could have been worse.
We’re accomplishing this feat with two different coaches and two very, very different playing styles. Most people wrote 2005 and 2006 off as a Pittsnogle anomaly. Obviously, that’s not the case.
So, it begs the question, are we now a Sweet 16 fixture?
Apparently, yes. Let’s take a look at what’s happened over the past few years.
- Dan Dakich is hired, then leaves. Without that, none of this success would’ve happened. Yikes.
- John Beilein resurrects the program with a group of scrappy players who can all shoot the 3.
- WVU goes on an unlikely run to the 2005 Big East Championship, then follows it up with an Elite Eight appearance, getting knocked out by a furious Louisville comeback.
- Amid high expectations the next year, WVU earns a berth in the Sweet 16, again being knocked out in dramatic fashion.
- Pittsnogle & Co. depart, WVU is snubbed from the NCAA Tournament, yet goes on to win the NIT.
- Now it’s Beilein & Co. that depart. Enter Huggins.
- Huggins takes a group of players labeled “finesse” and outrebounds and outdefends teams left and right to retake WVU’s rightful spot in the Sweet 16.
- In the meantime, Huggins has assembled a top 20 recruiting class set to come to Morgantown.
Even if you weren’t a WVU homer — which most of you probably are — wouldn’t you think the future of WVU basketball was white hot? We have a top 10 coach, a top 20 recruiting class, and have recently assembled a good history of tournament success. Try to argue against me? I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be difficult.
The traditional argument against has been that you can’t recruit talent to Morgantown. Hell, John Beilein left town at least partially for that reason. But Huggins has signed the aforementioned top 20 class, a class that has no visible warts. Just a solid, athletic group of players.
It certainly doesn’t look like the best class in Huggins’ and WVU’s future, either.
Stewart Mandel answered a slightly different question over the weekend. West Virginia: football school or basketball school?
Now that the West Virginia Mountaineers are moving on to their third Sweet 16 in the past four years, now that their fans are preparing to descend on Phoenix for the second time in the past three months (having watched their football team trounce Oklahoma in January’s Fiesta Bowl), the time has come to ask a once-blasphemous question.
West Virginia: Football or basketball school?
“I’m going to say a basketball school, with a good football team,” Mountaineers guard Alex Ruoff proclaimed following his team’s rousing 73-67 upset of second-seeded Duke here in Saturday’s NCAA second-round contest.
“Right now, basketball school, because it’s basketball season,” said senior point guard Darris Nichols. “But both football and basketball have had a lot of success. It’s pretty much the golden era for West Virginia sports.”
It truly is the golden era of Mountaineer sports. And it really doesn’t matter whether we’re a football or basketball school. That’s good for basketball since we’ve always been and always will be a football school.
But we’re into that zone where we’re looking at years of sustained success in both. Very few schools can say that.