Mountaineers Prepare To Dance

West Virginia University will be making its 24th appearance in the NCAA men's basketball tournament when it opens play on Thursday against Gonzaga in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Mountaineers hold a 25-24 record all-time in the Big Dance.

WVU, which drew a No. 10 seed in the East Regional, finished the regular season 19-13 overall and 9-9 in Big East play. Quality wins over Kansas State, Georgetown, Cincinnati and USF, along with a strong RPI, helped the Mountaineers earn an at-large berth after falling to Connecticut in overtime in the second round of their final Big East Tournament.

Gonzaga, a No. 7 seed, finished the year 25-6 and 13-3 in the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs beat Notre Dame, Xavier and Saint Mary's during the year and fell to Saint Mary's in the WCC Tournament.

The winner between the Bulldogs and Mountaineers will face the winner between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 15 Loyola (Md.). That Round of 32 game will be played on Saturday. Syracuse is the top seed in the East Regional.

WVU was the NCAA Tournament runner up in 1959, its only Final Four appearance until 2010, when the Mountaineers made it to Indianapolis before falling to eventual national champion Duke in the national semifinal game. Before that, it was a process of small steps for the Mountaineers, who finally got back to the Elite Eight in 2005 for the first time since that '59 run. An overtime loss to Louisville kept John Beilein's Mountaineers from their first Final Four of the modern era that season.

West Virginia has made eight appearances in the Sweet Sixteen, including three in the last six years, and three appearances in the Elite Eight.

Bob Huggins took WVU back to the Sweet Sixteen in 2008, his first year on the Mountaineer sidelines. West Virginia, the seventh seed, upset second-seeded Duke to get to the Sweet Sixteen before falling to Xavier in overtime with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.

Huggins took West Virginia back to the NCAA Tournament a year later, but the sixth-seeded Mountaineers were upset by No. 11 seed Dayton in the opening round. WVU more than made up for it in 2010, though, giving its fans a ride to remember and upsetting top-seeded Kentucky on the way to the Final Four.

Last year, WVU beat Clemson in the opening round before Kentucky found some revenge for the previous season in the Round of 32.

Huggins will be coaching in his 20h NCAA Tournament with his third different team. He took Akron to the Big Dance in 1986, and he reached the tournament in each of his 14 years on the Cincinnati sidelines. He made it to the Elite Eight three different times with the Bearcats, and his highlight season came in 1992 when he took UC all the way to the Final Four, his only appearance in that round until 2010.

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