Looking for a team to adopt? Now that Duke and Georgetown are gone and darling Drake is out, you might want to look to West Virginia.
|Bob Huggins is one of a handful of active coaches with 600 career victories. (AP)|
During his 16 years at Cincinnati, Bob Huggins elevated the Bearcats program to heights not seen at the school in decades (three Elite Eights, one Final Four). His next stop was Kansas State before leaving to take over his alma mater, West Virginia, last year. Huggins is considered among the best teachers in the country, one of only six active coaches with more than 600 wins.
Junior forward Joe Alexander, who grew up in Taiwan without ever hearing of Dick Vitale, scored 22 points against Duke while junior guard Alex Ruoff, who carries a 3.8 average in history, added 17. Sophomore guard Joe Mazzulla, who Mike Krzyzewski compared to a "mini-Jason Kidd," finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
West Virginia is solid at every position with a superstar in Alexander. Here's why you might want to adopt the Mountaineers, who head to Phoenix to face the deeply versatile No. 3-seeded Musketeers from Xavier: the history.
One name -- Jerry West. An NBA legend (hey, the guy's silhouette is the logo on the NBA uniforms), West wasn't exactly "Zeke from Cabin Creek," the name given to him by Elgin Baylor, his Hall of Fame teammate on the Lakers. West was actually brought up in Chelyan, W.Va., just down the road from Cabin Creek, where his family picked up the mail.
West was recruited to West Virginia by the great Fred Schaus, who spent many nights on the West's front porch swing, especially after seeing the 6-foot guard grab 28 rebounds in a single game. At West Virginia, West was voted the NCAA tournament MVP in 1959, even thought the Mountaineers lost to California in the finals. When Huggins was hired, West, as usual saying everything without saying much, pronounced, "He's the right man for the job."
Another reason to root for WVU? You'll want to go to West Virginia to celebrate. In the heart of Appalachia, the border state is known for its natural beauty. The highest summit, Spruce Knob, is often covered in clouds. Celebrations in Morgantown include long and loud renditions of Take Me Home, Country Roads, and no one ever talks about "West Virginia Mystique."
Alexander is no ordinary Joe. And now he's more of a Broadway Joe, as NBA scouts scribble detailed notes every time he shoots. Joe grew up in Beijing (there's a sentence), where he never played basketball. Alexander's father was an executive with Nestle, so the family moved around, from Taiwan to Hong Kong to Beijing.
When the family moved to Maryland, Alexander would practice dribbling in the kitchen for hours after midnight, and by the time he was a senior in high school, he caught the eye of former West Virginia coach John Beilein, who encouraged his 6-8 forward to shoot from the perimeter.
Then there's the other Joe. Mazzulla, a 6-2 sophomore from Rhode Island who has still never started a game, is the player we all want to root for. When foul trouble against Duke forced Huggins to go with three guards, Mazzulla almost finished with a triple-double. In high school at Bishop Hendricken, Mazzulla scored the winning basket at the buzzer to win the Rhode Island state championship.
Huggins is complicated, a Magna Cum Laude graduate of West Virginia who sometimes acts like a boor. He rants on the sideline like his good friend Bob Knight, yet after a game speaks so softly that you have to lean in to hear him.
He was forced out of Cincinnati after a DUI arrest, an event he says he has learned from. He doesn't take time off, and when asked what he does in his spare time, he answers, "Watch film." Huggins has an intensity that his players channel during the games, making the Mountaineers extremely fun to watch.
You might already have a team to pull for, or have joined the chorus for teams like Davidson, Washington State, Villanova or Western Kentucky. All are worthy. But if you're a fan without a country, consider West Virginia, and, hey, if they lose, Xavier is a great story, too.