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Big East gives Buffalo double dose of bear hugs

The weekend wouldn't have been complete without one more entertaining rant from Bob Huggins, and the West Virginia coach came through in kind with a profanity-laced tantrum directed toward forward Kevin Jones. He unloaded with a four-syllable doozy that would have left Bob Knight covering his ears.

By the way, West Virginia had a nine-point lead with 18.3 seconds remaining against a Missouri team that endured more than it could handle Sunday afternoon. It didn't matter. Huggins was coaching the Mountaineers to the final horn before splitting town with a 68-59 victory over the Tigers and a berth in the Sweet 16.

Forget the heart attack Huggins suffered a few years ago. His only regret was not overindulging on Duff's chicken wings and comparing them to the ones he had at the Anchor Bar during the World University Games in 1993. Apparently, nobody told him he could find a good batch at almost any corner joint in town.

"I kind of wanted to compare," he said with a smirk. "No, it's a great town. It's a great town, great people. I was very fortunate to recruit [Turner-Carroll guard] Lenny Stokes out of here, and Leonard had a great career for us at Cincinnati. I was in here recruiting Lenny, and what a great family he has. So Buffalo has been good to me."

Huggins can be a bear, but who knew he could be such a Teddy Bear? He explained in the locker room afterward that he wanted his players to enjoy themselves and soak up the experience that accompanied the NCAA Tournament. Every now and again, they force him to tap into his inner beast.

Just so you know, he was in a good mood Sunday. By the time he was finished flashing his charm, you would have thought he was looking for work with the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau. He had a "great weekend" in Buffalo. Of course, it helped that West Virginia won both games and can advance to the Final Four next weekend with two more wins in Syracuse.

But he was right. It was a great weekend all the way around. It was great for anyone who was able to enjoy the big-time college basketball, a rare treat in HSBC Arena.

This marked the fourth time in 11 years that the NCAA Tournament has staged the first two rounds in Buffalo. You forget sometimes what great basketball looks like until you see it played at such a high level. Let's be honest: After watching the six tournament games, nobody in Buffalo was longing for Canisius-Loyola.

The Big East is the closest Western New York can get to major college hoops. The top two teams in the conference, Syracuse and West Virginia, were the only two of the eight teams the Big East sent to the tournament that survived the first two rounds. At least we saw the best of the Big East.

Pittsburgh was the latest conference team to go down when it fell to Xavier on Sunday. Villanova was taken to overtime in the first round and was gone after the second. Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville and Notre Dame all lost in the first round.

Quick question: How are you doing in the office pool?

You had to wonder if tournament officials, even if they picked the right 65 teams, blundered when it made up the seeds. Northern Iowa, which knocked out Kansas on Saturday, was a No. 9 seed. More than anything, it confirms the minuscule difference between the best teams in the country and the lowest seeds in the tournament.

"The Big East is a great league," Huggins said. "We've said it for a long time. There's tremendous parity in college basketball."

West Virginia did its part Sunday when it wore down Missouri in the second round. The Mountaineers looked like another upset candidate going into the game against Mizzou's pressure defense. However, Missouri had no answers for Da'Sean Butler, who had 19 points in the first half and finished with 28.

Looking for a team to ride to a championship? Try Syracuse, a No. 1 seed that proved it's capable of winning it all in Indianapolis. There's always West Virginia, a No. 2 seed that looks like it's on its way. The two teams could meet in the final.

"Whoever doesn't think the Big East is a great league shouldn't write about sports," Huggins said. "They ought to do something else. Do cooking or something. You have to be kidding me."

Charming.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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