CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- To get into the proper spirit of this final West Virginia Conference men's basketball tournament, consider the history of the West Virginia State-University of Charleston rivalry.
At 7:30 tonight at UC's Eddie King Gym, the Kanawha Valley schools will play for the 12th time in WVC tournament play but just the second time this millennium. This will be the fifth time they have met in a first-round game but just the first time on a campus site.
The have met in every possible round, save for the long-since-retired consolation game, and that includes the 1962 championship game. UC leads that historical series 6-4, winning four times under its old Morris Harvey moniker.
But it has been awhile since one team was a perceived prohibitive favorite, as UC enters as the fifth seed and State is 12th. It has been 11 long years since the Yellow Jackets have failed to finish in the top eight seeds, thus being sent on the road for the first round.
The distance from Institute to UC's MacCorkle Avenue campus is short but the gap between the teams appeared to be large just three days ago. The Golden Eagles and the Jackets met in the season finale and it wasn't close - UC piled up a 32-point lead early in the second half en route to a 92-75 win.
The teams' first meeting was even more lopsided, as the Eagles (18-8) romped to a 92-56 win. But State (10-18) gets one more try tonight.
"I told our guys everybody's zero and zero," State coach Bryan Poore said Saturday. "We have the same right as anyone else to win this thing."
Everybody has the "right" to lose tonight, except for top seed West Liberty. The Hilltoppers (27-1) blew through the league for their fourth regular-season title on a row, thus earning a first-round bye. Ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II, they'll appear next at 8:30 p.m. in a tournament quarterfinal Thursday the Civic Center, playing the Pitt Johnstown-Concord winner.