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Even the plowed cornfields in Indiana are scenic this year

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Mar 19, 2021

SHEPHERDSTOWN — It was all taken away in 2020. The NCAA basketball tournament had to be abandoned. Will that make it more tasteful and more treasured this year? Or will the pairing with Morehead State be disregarded and left for somebody else to worry about on Friday at about 9:50 p.m. when third-seeded West Virginia gets back to its version of March Madness?

Morehead State. Not a household name anywhere except in eastern Kentucky, and not a college basketball name with a serious history of destroying schools with riper reputations.

The Eagles play in the Ohio Valley Conference and have not been in the NCAA tournament since 2011. They usually are submerged by Belmont in their own league and rarely see their name listed alongside of Kentucky, Louisville, Western Kentucky or Murray State in the Bluegrass State. You’ll find Morehead State bracketed with Northern Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky and Bellarmine in the minds of basketball-loving people in the state. Never mentioned with bourbon, thoroughbred horses, the Kentucky Derby, Adolph Rupp or the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

But now after winning 19 of their last 20 games, the Eagles are still playing. They dunked Belmont in the conference tournament. They had 6-foot-10 Johni Broome score 27 points in the OVC championship win over Belmont.

And now coach Preston Spradlin’s over achievers arrive in Indianapolis with a taste for more high-powered basketball. Spradlin came to Morehead from the University of Kentucky, where the population has been so entrenched in winning basketball lore that any other state school receives the attention given a little brother performing in a middle school play.

Will West Virginia pay attention to the upstarts? Or will the Mountaineers be straining to see ahead to a future that would include a San Diego State (at 23-4 this year and the holder of a 30-2 record last season) or well-known Syracuse, a rival from the not-too-distant past?

Can anybody remember NCAA tournament foe Stephen F. Austin from only a few seasons past?

West Virginia has spent the entire week in Indiana, sequestered in its quarters after taking numerous tests to see if anybody in its “travel party” has the coronavirus.

It hasn’t been a normal, on-campus week of practice. But it should have been an extraordinary week crested by unlimited enthusiasm since nobody could play last year and had to be satisfied with studying for final exams and writing term papers.

Morehead’s level of competition is not crammed with blueblood rosters and nationally-ranked teams, like WVU’s was. But ousting Belmont took some doing.

If the shoals and rip tides to be presented by the Eagles are cleared, what about the next round on Sunday? San Diego State starts four seniors, including 6-foot-6 leading scorer Matt Mitchell.

Syracuse will present its 2-3 zone and say “What now Mountain Men?” If West Virginia settles for outside shelling and little or no inside probing it will not shoot enough free throws or make coach Jim Boeheim use his always lean bench past two reserves. Who ever thought shooting free throws could win games for a West Virginia team?

Illinois is the top-seeded team in WVU’s Region. Houston was awarded the No. 2 seed, then came the Mountaineers and much-seen Oklahoma State has the No. 4 seed.

Everybody concerned should just be happy to be playing basketball right now. The still-barren cornfields that occupy so much acreage in Indiana should be considered the prettiest sights in the country right now. Morehead State should be considered the same as a John Wooden UCLA team was from 1964 through 1975, masters of the basketball universe and nothing short of superhuman.

You are getting to play this year. Take advantage of it.