MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Welcome to the CBI quarterfinals, hosted by West Virginia for the first time, in what WVU coach Bob Huggins hopes is a path to a more improved future for his younger players.
“My thought going in was, the more games these guys play and the more they play together, obviously the better they’re going to get,” Hugginas said. “I think the opportunity to play five or six more games would be extremely beneficial to them.”
It is not lost on anyone that the CBI is not the NCAA tournament. The question that needs to be asked is more of a bigger-picture deal. Say the Mountaineers (15-20) had somehow continued its Cinderella run in the Big 12 tournament and won it. The chances of West Virginia then getting out of the NCAA first round would have been pretty small. Sure, the Mountaineers would have still got some practices in. Players like Jordan McCabe and Emmitt Matthews Jr. would have seen what the whole NCAA experience is like, which is beneficial. Bigger picture, though, Iowa State did win the Big 12 tournament and was then bounced in the NCAA first round, while the Mountaineers have an opportunity in front of them to play four or five more games that will stretch into the start of April.
In the grand scheme, is Iowa State or West Virginia getting the better postseason experience? There are arguments both ways and we’re not saying one side is completely right or wrong, but it is worth the debate.
Anyway, we move on to today’s game against Coastal Carolina (16-16) and the Chanticleers (out of the Sun Belt Conference) have one of the more entertaining coaches in Division I in Cliff Ellis, the former lead singer for The Villagers. He gave up the band in 1968 to begin a coaching career that has led him to 841 career wins and three Sweet 16 appearances (one with Clemson, two at Auburn).
Together, Ellis and Huggins have combined for 1,701 wins. The only active combinations who combined for more in a game this season were Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (2,077 wins) and Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams (2,002).
Here’s what you need to know:
TV: None. A live stream is available at WVUsports.com. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. BETTING LINE: West Virginia is a 10-point favorite.
THREE GOOD QUESTIONS
What happens next if West Virginia wins? There are two unique parts to the CBI tournament, which begin in the semifinal round. The first thing that happens is when the CBI gets down to four teams, they are re-bracketed. How? The CBI examines many factors, including the strength of record for each team, but also travel concerns and arena availability. The guess here — and this is truly just a guess — is the CBI would most likely want to pit West Virginia and South Florida in the finals, so you could see West Virginia (if the Mountaineers win today) host the DePaul-Longwood winner on Thursday, while South Florida (if the Bulls beat Utah Valley) would likely host the Loyola Marymount-Brown winner. The second thing is the finals are a best two-out-three series, with each team guaranteed one home game. If it is WVU and USF, a trip to Tampa in late March is not necessarily a bad thing.
What have been the most impressive performances of the CBI so far? South Florida sophomore guard David Collins scored 31 points and added five rebounds and five assists in the Bulls’ overtime win against Stony Brook in the first round. Depaul senior guard Max Strus had 33 against Central Michigan in a 100-86 first-round win. Utah Valley junior center Baylee Steele had 19 points and 16 rebounds in its 92-84 first-round win against Cal State Northridge. Longwood (16-17) probably pulled the biggest upset, beating Southern Mississippi, 90-68, in the first round.
Is West Virginia developing any leadership for next season? Yes, in the form of McCabe, who has tried throughout the season to be a voice on the court. That was difficult for him to accomplish early, as West Virginia still had senior Esa Ahmad and juniors Wes Harris and Beetle Bolden on the roster. Now that the Mountaineers have a younger core of players, McCabe has established himself a little more, which is a good sign heading into next season, too.
“I think he tried to lead from the start,” Huggins said. “He was a guy trying to get guys into the gym, to put work in. He’s been like that since he’s been here. He just didn’t have as receptive an audience as he has now.”
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