MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Sweet 16s are becoming a habit for West Virginia University basketball. On Thursday night, the Mountaineers will be making their 10th Sweet 16 appearance and their sixth since 2005. Four of those have come under Bob Huggins, now coaching his 10th season at WVU.
Here are West Virginia’s prior nine Sweet 16 appearances, ranked in order from worst to best:
9. 2015 - Defeated Buffalo and Maryland before losing to Kentucky, 78-39, in Cleveland, Ohio
West Virginia, coming off back-to-back unsuccessful seasons, returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2015. WVU outlasted pesky Buffalo, 68-62, in a first-round NCAA game in Columbus, Ohio, before knocking off eighth-ranked Maryland, 69-59, before running into a Kentucky buzzsaw in Cleveland. The top-ranked Wildcats had the best team in the country and appeared destined for their second national championship under John Calipari before getting stunned by Wisconsin, 71-64, in the Final Four. West Virginia was never in the game and shot a miserable 24 percent from the floor against the much bigger and much more talented ‘Cats.
8. 1963 - Defeated Connecticut before losing to St. Joseph’s in College Park, Maryland
The Mountaineers, behind All-American guard Rod Thorn, began the year ranked fifth in the country, fell out of the rankings after a four-point loss to Kentucky in the KIT and then returned briefly before suffering back-to-back setbacks against Duke and Furman. WVU won its eighth Southern Conference Tournament by outlasting Davidson, 79-74, in Richmond, and then bested UConn, 77-71, in College Park, Maryland, in the NCAA's 25-team tourney before falling to Dr. Jack Ramsay’s St. Joseph’s Hawks, 97-88, in the round of 16 despite Thorn’s career-high 44 points. Thorn scored 33 in the consolation game against NYU a day later, while Duke routed St. Joe’s in the East Regional Finals.
7. 1960 - Defeated Navy before losing to NYU in Charlotte, North Carolina
West Virginia, coming off an NCAA Finals loss to California in 1959, spent nearly the entire season ranked in the top 10 before claiming its sixth Southern Conference Tournament championship. The Mountaineers, with All-American Jerry West, were one of the favorites to win the tournament, but they struggled to defeat Navy in the opening round and then lost to NYU, 82-81, behind Tom Sanders’ 28 points. The game’s biggest basket, ironically, came from reserve guard Jim Reiss with 1:15 to go in overtime to put the Violets ahead for good. Reiss began his college career at West Virginia as a member of the Mountaineer freshman team. NYU got past Duke before falling to Ohio State in the national semifinals.
6. 2006 - Defeated Southern Illinois and Northwestern State before losing to Texas in Atlanta, Georgia
After defeating Southern Illinois in a first-round game in Auburn Hills, Michigan, West Virginia faced Northwestern State in the round of 32 following its upset 64-63 upset of third-seeded Iowa. The Mountaineers knocked off the Demons, 67-54, and then lost a heartbreaker to No. 9 Texas when Kenton Paulino banged in a 3 at the buzzer to give the Longhorns a 74-71 victory. LeMarcus Aldridge was Texas’ big gun with 26, while Kevin Pittsnogle led West Virginia with 19, including a 3 that tied the game with five seconds left. Two nights later, LSU got past Texas to reach the Final Four.
5. 1998 - Defeated Temple and Cincinnati before losing to Utah in Anaheim, California
It had been 35 years since West Virginia journeyed this deep into the NCAA Tournament, the Mountaineers routing Temple in a first-round game before eliminating ninth-ranked Cincinnati on a bank-shot 3 from Jarrod West in Boise, Idaho. Gale Catlett’s magical Mountaineers nearly pulled off an even bigger upset by taking seventh-ranked Utah down to the wire before the Utes pulled out a 65-62 victory in Anaheim, California. Andre Miller was Utah’s big-name player, but it was actually center Michael Doleac who did most of the damage, scoring 25 and grabbing nine rebounds. Utah kept winning all the way to the national championship game where it lost to Kentucky, 78-69, in the finals.
4. 2008 - Defeated Arizona and Duke before losing to Xavier in Phoenix, Arizona
Bob Huggins’ first West Virginia team in 2008 gave Mountaineer fans a taste of continued success by defeating Arizona and then upsetting ninth-ranked Duke to reach the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. Joe Alexander’s play in the Big East Tournament, and then in the NCAA Tournament, elevated him from a relative unknown player to a first-round NBA Draft prospect. However, the normally reliable Alexander couldn’t cash in at the free throw line late in the Xavier game and the Musketeers got past WVU in overtime, 79-75. Xavier’s run ended in the Elite Eight against UCLA, and a year later saw its coach Sean Miller leave to take the Arizona job.
3. 2005 - Defeated Creighton, Wake Forest and Texas Tech before losing to Louisville in Albuquerque, New Mexico
“You’ve just been Pittsnogled” became popular sentence during West Virginia’s improbable Elite Eight run under third-year coach John Beilein and his 3-point-shooting center Kevin Pittsnogle. This team put the Mountaineers back on the college basketball map with their torrid play in the Big East Tournament, and it continued in the NCAAs with impressive victories over Creighton, second-seeded Wake Forest and Chris Paul and Bob Knight-coached Texas Tech. Their trek nearly reached the Final Four when WVU had Louisville on the ropes in the first half, but the Cardinals came back to defeat West Virginia, 93-85, in overtime. Despite blowing a 20-point first half lead, West Virginia had a chance to win the game in regulation, but guard J.D. Collins’ short jumper at the foul line didn’t go down. The clock struck midnight for Louisville in the Final Four when Illinois routed the Cardinals, 72-57.
2. 1959 - Defeated Dartmouth, St. Joseph’s, Boston University and Louisville before losing to California in Louisville, Kentucky
Fred Schaus’ “Cardiac Kids,” led by All-American Jerry West, made 14 comeback victories that year, including a dramatic, 95-92 win over 14th-ranked St. Joseph’s in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina, when Ronnie Retton stole an inbounds pass to make a late driving basket. Then, after defeating Boston University to reach the Final Four, WVU routed Louisville, 94-79, on its home floor in Freedom Hall to face underdog California in the Finals. Cal reached the championship game by upsetting tournament favorite Cincinnati and its star player Oscar Robertson, so instead of a Jerry West-Oscar Robertson matchup in the finals, it was West vs. Darrall Imhoff. Cal’s lanky center came out on top when West spent a good portion of the second half sitting on the bench in foul trouble. After Imhoff’s tip-in basket gave Cal a 71-70 lead, West had the basketball in his hands deep in the frontcourt but was unable to get off a shot with a chance to win it.
1. 2010 - Defeated Morgan State, Missouri, Washington and Kentucky before losing to Duke in Indianapolis, Indiana
West Virginia’s run to the 2010 Final Four began at Madison Square Garden in New York City, when the Mountaineers eked out tough wins over Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown to claim its only Big East Tournament championship. The second-seeded Mountaineers then deposited Morgan State and Missouri in early-round NCAA games in Buffalo New York, before moving on to defeat Washington and then second-ranked Kentucky in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. The 73-66 victory over the heavily-favored Wildcats has to be considered one of the greatest wins in school history considering Kentucky that year had five first-round NBA players on its roster: John Wall (first overall), DeMarcus Cousins (fifth overall), Patrick Patterson (14th overall), Eric Bledsoe (18th overall) and Daniel Orton (29th overall). West Virginia’s smothering zone defense held Wildcat guards Wall and Bledsoe to a combined 10 of 27 from the floor, including one of 10 from behind the arc. Da’Sean Butler made four 3s and finished with 18 points, while Joe Mazzulla, playing in place of injured starting point guard Truck Bryant, scored 17 - mostly on contested drives to the basket. West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament run ended a week later in Indianapolis, Indiana, against eventual national champion Duke. The Mountaineers’ chances of pulling off an upset over the favored Blue Devils ended midway through the second half when Butler sustained a serious knee injury requiring him to be carried off the court.
Now, this year’s team will be added to the list when the Mountaineers meet No. 1-seeded Gonzaga at 7:39 p.m. on Thursday night at the Sap Center in San Jose, California. The game will be televised nationally on TBS.
Where will this trip rank on the list?