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Mountaineers have grit across the boards

West Virginia hits town in a snit after being denied a No. 1 regional seed. And the Mountaineers have sound grounds for feeling slighted after tying for second during the Big East regular season and then winning the conference tournament.

"If this isn't the best league in the country, then I just need to quit coaching, because I don't know anything," said West Virginia's Bob Huggins. ". . . And you know, I said our non-league RPI was second. It was No. 2.

"I mean, I don't know what else you have to do," Huggins said. "But, you know, that being said, we don't care. We know what we are."

Morgan State has external motivations are well. The Bears have dedicated the season to redshirt freshman Anthony Anderson, who was diagnosed with leukemia in October.

>The Mountaineers

Although not overly imposing from a height standpoint, West Virginia outrebounded opponents by a whopping 6.8 per game. The mainstays are 6-foot-9 Devin Ebanks (8.2 rpg), 6-8 Kevin Jones (7.1), 6-7 Da'Sean Butler (6.3) and 6-7 Wellington Smith (4.4). Jones has produced more than half his 234 rebounds on the offensive glass.

West Virginia's balance extends throughout a multifaceted offense where only one player who averages more than 10 minutes (Smith) has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. Butler and senior guard Darryl Bryant have more than 100 assists apiece, and Butler, Jones and Ebanks are double-figure scorers.

The defense is typical of a Bob Huggins team, gritty and pressurizing. Six players have 20 steals or more on the season and opponents had 138 fewer cumulative assists.

>The Bears

This is the second straight trip to the NCAAs for Morgan State, a university located in Baltimore City, with an enrollment pushing 6,000. Last year's appearance was a resounding 82-54 defeat inflicted by Oklahoma and top NBA draft pick Blake Griffin. The Bears believe they were toughened by the experience, and a road win at Arkansas and a respectable showing at Louisville (lost by nine) speak to their capabilities.

The offense revolves around Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year Reggie Holmes, a senior guard who this season became the school's all-time leading scorer (2,047 points). He's accounted for about 30 percent of Morgan State's scoring at 21.9 ppg. The Bears like to push it in transition and 6-9 sophomore center Kevin Thompson's the catapult, ranking fourth nationally in rebounding (12.0) and third in total double-doubles (22). He was the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year.

Holmes and Thompson both average more than 30 minutes. Nine other Bears average at least 13 minutes.

>Outlook

West Virginia's array of offensive weapons and its rebounding make it a difficult matchup for Bears coach Todd Bozeman, a renowned defensive strategist. The Mountaineers rank ninth in country in rebounding margin, and Morgan State can't push tempo without owning the boards. And that's a lot to ask out of Thompson.

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