NCAA tournament: West Virginia not yet among elite

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INDIANAPOLIS -- For sure, this elite society is restricted.

Just as certain is this: The West Virginia basketball program isn't a member.

But, at approximately 11:30 p.m. today, there is a chance the Mountaineers could be rejoicing in the immediate aftermath of defeating the second consecutive affiliate of college basketball's privileged -- and exclusive -- upper-echelon.

Kentucky? The Wildcats are undeniably a member.

West Virginia saw to it that the NCAA tournament road reached its end for Kentucky in the Elite Eight, when the Mountaineers used a 1-3-1 zone a week ago to baffle John Calipari's team into fits.

Now is this chance in a national semifinal against privileged Duke, which has reached the Final Four in six consecutive decades and has made 15 Final Four appearances, 11 under coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Sure, West Virginia has improved in the past three seasons being guided by coach Bob Huggins, and the Mountaineers are in the Final Four for the first time since 1959, but ... "You can't be considered one of them until you really are one of them," Huggins said of the country's elite.

The next logical questions are these:

How do you get there?

At what point does your program receive membership into the select few?

"It takes a championship, maybe, but making it to the Final Four was a big step for us toward that," West Virginia sophomore forward Kevin Jones said. "You just have to put yourself in the same position as those powerhouse schools and I think winning a national championship would definitely do that. We can compete with programs like that, the ones that have a great history, like Duke and Kentucky. I think we have proven ourselves throughout the year and this game is just another step for us."

Winning this game and advancing to the championship Monday would help elevate the status of West Virginia's program, but sustainable success is the key to being considered among the nation's finest.

"Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas and places like that, everybody looks at those schools as the main powerhouses," Jones said. "But just to come to West Virginia and put it on the map, you can't ask for anything else, that's a positive that we are heading in the right direction, definitely."

Getting this chance, and the enormity that comes with it is not lost on West Virginia junior guard Joe Mazzulla, one of the Mountaineers who would -- if the Mountaineers win tonight -- beat Duke twice in his career.

West Virginia defeated the Blue Devils in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.

"You don't get a chance to play Duke that many times in your career," Mazzulla said. "They obviously are a team with such great history and tradition."

But, once you do arrive at elite status, there is a careful-what-you-wish-for quotient.

With Duke basketball, there is no middle ground, no gray area.

You either love them or hate them -- no one seems in the middle of the continuum.

It is the same with Notre Dame football. Same with the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys.

Take for example what happened Friday with a local newspaper, the Indianapolis Star.

The sports section ran a story titled, "Despising Duke" which also featured an illustration of Krzyzewski. It was a photo of the Duke coach, with a drawn-on mustache, hokey glasses, blackened-in teeth and a target on his head.

"I did see that," Krzyzewski said. "First thing, I thought, that can't be. How could a newspaper do that? I thought somebody doodled. ... But it was kind of juvenile. Not kind of, it was just juvenile. You know, my seven grandkids didn't enjoy looking at it. ... If we're going to be despised or hated by anybody because we go to school and we want to win, you know what, that's your problem.

"If you don't like it, keep drawing pictures, you know, just keep drawing pictures. Try to do them a little bit better than that."

Colin Dunlap: or 412-263-1459. First Published April 3, 2010 4:00 AM


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