Split by conference realignment two years ago, West Virginia (17-15, 9-9 Big 12) faces off with longtime foe Georgetown (17-14, 8-10 Big East) from the original Big East Conference in the first round of this year’s NIT tournament.
The Mountaineers, a No. 5 seed in the tournament, will face the Hoyas, a No. 4 seed, at 7PM tonight on ESPN. Although the Hoyas typically play home games at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, DC, tonight’s game will be featured at the more intimate McDonough Gym on campus, which features seating for only 2,500 people.
West Virginia won the 2007 NIT Championship in the team’s last appearance in the postseason tournament, while Georgetown was eliminated in the first round by Baylor in 2009.
But tonight, neither team will enter the game with much, if any, momentum following conference tournament play through the past week.
Georgetown dropped the regular season finale against No. 7 Villanova and was eliminated in the first round of the Big East Conference tournament for the first time since 2011. Texas knocked around West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament, 66-49, as the Mountaineers shot a season-low 30 percent from the field and scored the lowest amount of points since February 2012.
All-Big East First Team selection guard Markel Starks and second team selection guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will bring a solid tandem attack for Georgetown. Starks and Smith-Rivera each averaged 17 points per game and more than 35 minutes played each game this season.
Not to be forgotten, forward Mikael Hopkins will be the best option to cover the inside for the Hoyas. Hopkins had very respectable numbers with 6.2 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game this season.
The main focus for West Virginia is to put the poor performances against Texas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference tournament in the rear view and return to fantastic play that saw them knock off No. 8 Kansas in the regular season finale.
Terry Henderson, Juwan Staten and Eron Harris each averaged more than 10 points per game in the regular season so the 15 points combined from the trio against the Longhorns hopefully is just one time thing, not a trend.
Staten will be the key for the Mountaineers making it to NIT finals at Madison Square Garden after scoring in double digit figures in all but two games this season. The same is true for Harris that picked it up greatly after Henderson went down with an illness during the stretch run of the year.
In their most recent matchup, West Virginia defeated then-No. 9 Georgetown at the WVU Coliseum on January 7, 2012. The Mountaineers currently have a five-game winning streak over the Hoyas and has won seven of the past 10 games dating back to 2006.
Ultimately for both teams, a run in the NIT builds experience and is usually a spring board into a deep run in the next year’s NCAA Tournament as seen with West Virginia’s Sweet Sixteen run in the 2008 tournament.
The winner of West Virginia and Georgetown will either travel to face No. 1 seed Florida State on the road in Tallahassee or will host No. 8 seed Florida Gulf Coast later this week.
You can follow Chris at @_CBH_ for more news about West Virginia athletics as well as WVU Pros at @WVUPros on Twitter.