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WVU gets first-round bye in Big East tourney

TAMPA, Fla. - Somehow, just about everything fell into place for West Virginia on Saturday. As a result, the Mountaineers earned the final first-round bye in the Big East tournament that begins Tuesday.

The Mountaineers won't play until Wednesday after having knocked off South Florida a few hours before last-place DePaul blasted Seton Hall 86-58 in Chicago.

That gives the Mountaineers (19-11, 9-9 Big East) the No. 8 seed instead of the Pirates.

So West Virginia will wait until noon Wednesday to play the winner of the Tuesday opening game between last-place DePaul and Connecticut (18-12, 8-10). That complicated seeding matter wasn't sorted out until late Saturday when Rutgers beat St. John's 61-58 to give UConn the No. 9 seed over Seton Hall.

The Mountaineers could have gotten a better draw in the second round, of course. In Connecticut, West Virginia will face a team that has been in this position before. Last year the Huskies were the ninth seed and won five games in as many days to win the title, then went on to win the NCAA championship.

This is a different Connecticut team, having lost All-America Kemba Walker, and the Huskies have struggled while losing nine of 12 recently. But they also played Syracuse down to the wire, blew by Pitt Saturday after falling behind early and now have coach Jim Calhoun back after back surgery.

As for the rest of the Tuesday schedule, following UConn-DePaul is Pitt-St. John's at 2 p.m., then Providence-Seton Hall and Villanova-Rutgers in the night session.

West Virginia is the first of four teams that play Wednesday against Tuesday victors. The others are Georgetown, Louisville and South Florida facing, respectively, the Pitt-St. John's, Providence-Seton Hall and Villanova-Rutgers winners.

The top four seeds don't play until Thursday's quarterfinals, beginning with No. 1 Syracuse against the WVU-UConn-DePaul winner at noon. The other two-round bye teams, in the order they play, are No. 4 Cincinnati, No. 2 Marquette and No. 3 Notre Dame. (See pairings, Page 2D.)

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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