As someone who has lived in the Baltimore-Washington region since 1981, I am sympathetic to the fact that no "local" teams are still alive in the NCAA men's basketball tournament with Virginia Commonwealth (which I'm not sure is even local), Georgetown, the University of Virginia and Maryland all losing in the early rounds.
However, fans still have a local team to pull for — the West Virginia University Mountaineers are playing undefeated No. 1 Kentucky this Thursday in Cleveland for the right to advance to the Elite Eight.
Why bother, you might say? WVU doesn't stand a chance? On the other hand, you should realize that Mountaineer basketball coach, 2015 Big 12 Coach of the Year Bob Huggins with 765 career coaching victories is the third winningest active Division I coach behind Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim. More relevantly, he has a big edge in head-to-head matchups with Kentucky coach John Calipari and WVU's full-court press defense (aka "Press Virginia"), which leads the nation in steals and offensive rebounding, has helped Huggs' team achieve out-of-conference wins over University of Connecticut, North Carolina State as well as Big 12 foes Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Mountaineers countered naysayers on their way to the 2010 Final Four by upsetting second ranked, top-seeded Kentucky 73-66.
Maybe you don't know that West Virginia University athletics have a lot of ties to the Baltimore-Washington region. Daxter Miles Jr., a freshman guard from Baltimore, scored 12 points including a couple of key transition baskets in WVU's 69-59 win over a higher-ranked and impressive Maryland Terrapin squad. The St. Louis Rams' Tavon Austin, a WVU graduate, is also from Baltimore. Going back further to 1965, when WVU desegregated its basketball program, two of its first four African-American freshmen basketball players were from the Washington area — Alexandria, Va. native Jim Lewis and Norman Holmes from the District of Columbia. There are many other examples too numerous to mention here.
West Virginia University has played a pivotal role in the gridiron history of the Washington Redskins. From Sam Huff to Danny "Lightning" Buggs, Adrian Murrell, Jeff Hostetler and today's backup nose tackle Chris Neild (who had two sacks and a forced fumble in this first game as a Redskin in 2011), there are many Mountaineers who starred wearing burgundy and gold. Sorry, Charm City (where I lived in 1981-83), but yes, Mountaineers have played for the two-time Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens. The second all-time passer in WVU history, Marc Bulger, finished his career as a Raven in 2010.
WVU basketball is just as good as any "local team." Almost everyone knows about Jerry West and maybe even Hot Rod Hundley but few know that between the early 1940s (when WVU won its only national championship) and the early 1960s, that West Virginia University was the second winningest hoop program in the country after Adolph Rupp's University of Kentucky dynasty. Before the ACC, WVU played many of the teams, North Carolina, NC State, Duke, Maryland, etc. that comprised the old Southern Conference. And West Virginia did very well against those teams. Today, West Virginia leads the Maryland basketball series, 24-14.
Obviously, it's a slam dunk! Come on, Baltimore and D.C., why not adopt West Virginia this Thursday night when they take on Blue Nation? While an upset over undefeated Kentucky is in no way guaranteed, you'll have fun pulling for the Old Gold and Blue. And why not? They might just pull off the upset.
Jeffrey Mason, Waldorf