The Times West Virginian

March 9, 2010

FURFARI COLUMN - Interest in WVU basketball is at peak pitch

By Mickey Furfari
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Interest in men’s basketball was never higher than it has been this year.

So it certainly is not surprising that the Mountaineers, 24-6 for the regular season and nationally ranked in the Top 10, set an all-time attendance record at the Coliseum turnstiles.

Matt Wells, director of WVU sports marketing, said the 14 home games draw 173,281 fans. That total averages out to 12,377 per contest. WVU students averaged about 1,800.

All three of those are all-time highs including standing-room-only crowds of more than 15,000 for Pitt, Villanova and Ohio State games.

The previous records for home attendance were in 1981-82.

West Virginia drew 170,762 for 15 games that year. The average was 12,307 per contest.

Wells said, “We are very pleased that we had so many fans at the games this season. And we hope that even more will turn out next year and set more records.”

Bob Huggins, in his third year as the head coach, has said Mountaineer fans are truly loyal and supportive.

“They come out to see the Mountaineers perform,” he said. “Our fans don’t really care who we’re playing.”

Making the attendance records even more impressive is the fact that the fans had to travel in the long stretch of snow and freezing temperatures that Morgantown had not seen in several years.

Make no mistake, there was great interest in WVU men’s basketball in 1942 when coach Dyke Raese’s Cinderella team won the National Invitation Tournament title in New York. That picked up again after World War II with Leland Byrd and Fred Schaus (head coach from 1955-60) leading the way.

Mark Workman was a standout at center in the mid-1950s with the legendary Hot Rod Hundley, Jerry West and Rod Thorn following into the 1960s.

But all of those superstars played in 6,500-seat Mountaineer Field House. Now fans are filling the 14,000-seat Coliseum, which opened in 1970, at a record rate. Tickets have become scarce.

The current Mountaineers performed before slightly more than 320,000 spectators in the 30 games to date. That total includes about 116,000 for 11 games away and 30,969 for five games at neutral sites.

WVU was 12-2 at home, 8-2 for games away, and 5-0 on neutral courts.

Last Saturday’s overtime 68-66 comeback conquest of No. 9 ranked Villanova at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center drew more than 20,000 — largest crowd of the year. And CBS televised the thriller from coast to coast.

WVU finished in third place with a 13-5 Big East record and earned a double bye in the league tournament this week at Madison Square Garden.

The Mountaineers’ 13 Big East victories are a school record. They had 11 in Huggins’ first year as the head coach (2007-08).

According to CollegeRPI.com, West Virginia has the fifth best RPI in the country and the third toughest schedule in NCAA Division 1.