LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — The last time Morehead State went dancing, the Eagles pulled off a first-round upset with a shocking upset over Louisville.
A decade after eliminating the Cardinals from the NCAA Tournament, Morehead State is back and will be making its eighth appearance. The No. 14 seed Eagles will take on third-seeded West Virginia at 9:50 p.m. Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium In Indianapolis.
Morehead State is the lone Kentucky team competing in the prestigious event. Eagles coach Preston Spradlin, a former member of John Calipari’s support staff at Kentucky, welcomes the added support from the Wildcats’ fan base.
“I would imagine we've picked up a lot of fans (this week),” Spradlin said earlier this week. “I would hope so. You know that we've got some Louisville (and) Kentucky fans and everyone out there pulling for us and giving us some great support. It is it's very special. It means a lot to me personally being from Kentucky and just knowing the people of the state and their affection for basketball to be able to represent our state on the national level. To be the only team to do it is pretty special."
Spradlin said the Mountaineers (18-9) have maintained an identity that aligns with West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. The two teams will be meeting for the first time in more than nine years when the Mounties defeated the Eagles 83-48 in Charleston.
“They're going to be very physical, very tough, very rugged, great defense, great rebounding team, good size, and this year, very good offensive team to go along with it from what little bit I've watched (on film),” Spradlin said.
It’s a similar style the Eagles employed this season and enabled Morehead to win 19 of its last 20 games going into the contest.
“It's going to be a great match-up because in our league we kind of have the same identity,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being a very physical, tough, defensive-minded team that dominates the glass and dominates the paint. It's going to be a battle of two really comparable teams in terms of our style of play. And so our guys are certainly excited about that match.”
The Eagles didn’t hit their stride until a 61-56 win at perennial Ohio Valley Conference powerhouse Murray State on Jan. 2. That’s when Spradlin realized the Eagles could have a say on who would be one of the top teams in the league.
“I think that was when we kind of felt like, ‘OK, we belong at the top of this league and we deserve to be in the conversation,’” he said. “We're a team that could compete and go to the NCAA tournament. I think that was really the turning point.”
Huggins will be making his 25th appearance in the tournament and his 10th as coach of the Mountaineers. He led Cincinnati to the Final Four in 1992 and also led the Mountaineers to the national semifinals in 2010.
"I've had some terrible disappointments, and I've had some great wins that other people didn't think was possible," he said Wednesday. "I guess when you've done this as long as some of us have done this, you're going to have lots of ups and downs."
Huggins added he doesn’t know how his players will react in the tournament opener against the Eagles. The Mountaineers hold a 3-0 series lead between the two teams.
"It's the biggest stage these guys are ever going to play on, and you hope they react well to it,” he said. “We've looked at enough film, and we are going to prepare enough to know what we need to do and what we need to prevent them from doing."
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.