No, the Mountaineers themselves did not somehow magically get an NCAA tournament bid overnight. Rather, No. 2-seeded Michigan will take on No. 15-seeded Wofford.
Why is that a game fans in the Mountain state might want to watch?
Well, it pits together two WVU greats in John Beilein and Darris Nichols, Beilein being the head coach at Michigan and Nichols an assistant at Wofford. The game, which will be played Thursday night at 7:10 p.m. on CBS, puts student against teacher.
“It’s exciting,” Nichols said of the matchup. “He is one of my mentors and I look up to him. For us to play his team on this stage is special because a few years ago I was with him on this stage.”
Nichols played for Beilein from 2005-07, undoubtedly putting together some of the most memorable games in a Mountaineer uniform.
The Radford, VA native had his best statistical collegiate season under the now-Wolverine coach, scoring 10.9 points and dishing out 4.2 assists per game all while leading the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio during the 2007 season, Nichols’ junior year.
His most memorable Mountaineer moment also came in that season during the NIT. Nichols and the Mountaineers trailed Mississippi State by 14 points in the second half, but, led by Nichols, WVU made a comeback in the semi-finals of the NIT.
Down by two in the game’s final seconds, the ball was put in Nichols’ hands. He came through, netting a 3-pointer and sending WVU into the finals, where they would beat Clemson, 78-73. After the semi-final game, Beilein said that Nichols was the first option for the shot, showing the trust the coach had in his junior point guard. He finished with 17 points, six assists and three rebounds in the win over Mississippi State.
Now, though, the two have taken similar paths, both advancing in their careers as coaches, Beilein going straight to Michigan after that season and Nichols going on to make a Sweet Sixteen run under Bob Huggins before graduating and playing professionally before starting his coaching career.
Wofford, though has a tough task ahead of it, playing a Michigan team which is coming off of a Big Ten regular-season championship. Nichols’ Wofford team finished 20-12, winning the Southern Conference championship game for the third time in five years.
Michigan has now made the NCAA tournament five of Beilein’s seven seasons as head coach. During that stretch, Michigan has never lost in the first round, leaving some to say that it would take a miracle for Wofford to beat Michigan.
Well, if miracles can come in the form of step-back 3-pointers as one did in 2007, Nichols may have one left up his sleeve.
Asked if he had any buzzer beaters left in him, Nichols admittedly said, “I don’t.” But not before adding, “But hopefully our team does.”