TAMPA, Fla. - Not that West Virginia is looking past Thursday's opening game with Clemson, but it was hard not to notice in the brackets what probably looms next should the Mountaineers win.
Anybody for a rematch with Kentucky?
"We don't want to look past anything,'' senior guard Joe Mazzulla said, "but that's a great opportunity.''
It certainly was for Mazzulla the last time the two teams played. He scored a career-high 18 points and drove through the top-seeded Wildcats in West Virginia's win in the Elite Eight a year ago. Mazzulla was named the East Regional's outstanding player following the 73-66 win at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., a victory that sent the Mountaineers to their first Final Four in more than half a century.
In order for the teams to meet again, No. 5 seed West Virginia has to win its game and No. 4 seed Kentucky must beat No. 13 Princeton. The games are back-to-back Thursday at St. Pete Times Forum, WVU playing at 12:15 p.m. and Kentucky 30 minutes after the conclusion. The winners play Saturday.
"They're a talented team, very young. They depend on their freshmen a whole bunch,'' WVU's Kevin Jones said of Kentucky. "If that were to happen it would be another great game like it was last year. But we're not looking past UAB or Clemson.''
So what sort of chance for success does West Virginia coach Bob Huggins give his team in this year's tournament? Well, the answer probably comes not from recent talks with the coach but from one during the early part of the regular season.
How competitive teams are in the NCAA tournament against opponents that are almost always unfamiliar comes down in part to simple talent and skill levels, but perhaps just as significant is how teams match up.
Thus Huggins' theory on how good the Mountaineers can be.
"I think we're capable of beating a lot of people,'' Huggins said. "But matchups have a lot to do with all of that.
"We match up better against some teams than we do against others just like everybody does. A lot of what happens in the NCAA tournament has to do with who you get matched up with. If you're not very good against the press and you play Missouri, you're going to probably struggle.''
That example, as much as anything, perhaps explains Huggins' success in developing teams over the course of a season. Last year, even with a team that spent much of the season ranked in the top 10, West Virginia was awful against the press in November and December, in great part because perhaps its best lineup was one with five forwards.