Morgan glad to be back in NCAA tournament

Morgan vs. West Virginia: Preparation, perspective of last season will guide Bears

March 15, 2010|By Ken Murray |

Buffalo? No sweat.

Fifteen seed? Could've been worse.

For the second straight year, Morgan State got slapped with a 15 seed and a first-round NCAA tournament game against a team that perhaps should have had a No. 1 seed in West Virginia.

Todd Bozeman, though, wasn't sweating the details.

"We aren't a 16 seed, we aren't in the play-in game," the Bears coach said after a Selection Sunday celebration at the school's new student center.

The Bears have the same seed they had a year ago when, as a 15 seed, they were sent to Kansas City to play Oklahoma, which carried top-seed credentials. The result was a 28-point loss and - a year later - the loss of 6-foot-4 Ameer Ali, who faces a one-game tournament suspension for flipping Blake Griffin to the court in that defeat.

This year, they're headed to Buffalo's HSBC Arena on Friday in an East bracket matchup against the Mountaineers (27-6), whose championship in the Big East tournament could have earned them a top seed.

Disappointment? That's not a word Reggie Holmes would use, either.

"I'm not disappointed," the Bears' all-time leading scorer said. "I'd never be disappointed to be in the tournament."

Holmes, the Player of the Year in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, said he has been to Buffalo, N.Y., once - and was briefly recruited by the university there. He didn't consider it because "it's too cold."

The Bears learned their destination more than halfway through the announcement of the pairings Sunday night. Rumors of a matchup with Georgetown swept across campus upon the players' return from Winston-Salem, N.C., where they collected their second straight MEAC tournament title.

If they were looking for some curiosities in the bracket, they could look at Ohio University, with a 21-14 record, getting a 14 seed in the Midwest and a date with Georgetown. Ohio came out of a better conference - the Mid-American - while the Bears (27-9) came out of the MEAC, which stands 30th of 33 conferences in the RPI rankings.

"I think we can play better than some teams [seeded] higher than us," senior guard Troy Smith said.

Bozeman will renew acquaintances with West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. Their teams played each other three times when Bozeman coached California and Huggins was at Cincinnati.

"I know Hugs, we're friends," Bozeman said. "His teams are always tough, they play hard and have an aggressive style. They will have a chip on their shoulder because they thought they should have been a No. 1 seed. But if you get to the tournament, you're going to have to play a tough team regardless."

Holmes has seen enough West Virginia games on television to have respect for De'Sean Butler, whose running jumper with four seconds left gave the sixth-ranked Mountaineers a 60-58 win over Georgetown and the Big East championship. Butler had 20 points and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

"I know they have a strong leader with De'Sean Butler, who plays very hard," Holmes said.

"If we prepare right, we can match up with anybody and everybody," he said. "It's a matter of how we prepare."

Bozeman stressed the experience of last year's tournament game over the result.

"This won't be new to them this time," he said. "I feel good because we're getting more contributions from other folks. For Troy, this is all he knows as a [junior college] transfer. Reggie has gone to two. You can't lose sight of that kind of stuff. I feel good about going." Tickets Call Adelaide Wilson, the school's ticket coordinator, at 443-885-3830.

Morgan State's opponent: West Virginia
Game time: 12:15 p.m. Friday in Buffalo, N.Y. Record: 27-6 Conference: Big East (13-5) Coach: Bob Huggins (666-240 overall) Top scorer: Senior forward De'Sean Butler, above, averages 17.2 ppg. Previous meetings: The two teams have never met.

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