CBI Matchup Brings Together Veteran Coaches
Between them, Bob Huggins and Cliff Ellis have spent a combined 78 years as head college basketball coaches, and the pair has a total of 1,701 victories.
But surprisingly until this coming Monday night when Huggins’ West Virginia Mountaineers host Ellis’ Coast Carolina Chanticleers in the second round of the CBI, they have never faced off from opposite benches.
That doesn’t mean they’re strangers, though, far from it.
“I know Cliff real well,” said Huggins. “We were both together on the Nike circuit, particularly back when coaches went away and spent some time together. Cliff and I have spent a lot of time together. He’s an absolute great guy to be around.”
West Virginia’s coach then told a story about the night Ellis entertained Nike president Phil Knight and others in the restaurant with his singing ability. Huggs noted he just hummed along like some sneakered backup singer.
As far as on the court, Huggins is currently eighth on the list of all-time winning Division I men’s basketball coaches with 860, while Ellis is 16th with 765.
While the two current West Virginia and Coastal Carolina head coaches have never met on the court, Ellis has been to the WVU Coliseum before. He was coaching at South Alabama when his Jaguars lost to the Mountaineers 65-59 in January of 1981. Then in 1994, Ellis was coaching Clemson when the Tigers came to Morgantown for a second-round NIT matchup. CU put an end to the college careers of West Virginia seniors Marsalis Basey, P.S. Green, Phil Wilson, Ricky Robinson and Mike Boyd that night, dispatching the home club 95-79.
One of the Tigers who scored 10 points in the Coliseum in that NIT showdown was Merl Code, who still is in the news today. A former consultant for adidas, Code was one of the central figures in the recent FBI investigation into the scandal in which money was allegedly funneled to recruits by adidas reps to sway them to attended adidas-sponsored schools. Code was recently sentenced to six months in prison for his part in the scheme that has entangled some two dozen schools.
Ellis is returning to the Coliseum for the first time since that 1994 NIT victory. He’ll be bringing a Coastal Carolina club that has never met WVU on the basketball court before.
The Chanticleers, who finished the season in a sixth-place tie in the Sun Belt Conference with a 9-9 league mark, are currently 16-16 after an 81-76 win over Howard in their first round CBI game in Conway, S.C.
In the regular season, CCU faced only one Power 5 program, losing 85-79 at South Carolina in November. It did have close losses to NCAA Tournament qualifiers Wofford (82-71) and Northern Kentucky (89-83), while defeating Sun Belt champ Georgia State (95-82) in Conway.
In his 12th season as the coach at Coastal Carolina, where he is 229-163, Ellis won’t bring a big squad to Morgantown on Monday. His biggest starter is 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward Tommy Burton, but it is a team that can score, averaging 76.4 points per game and also is +4.3 in the rebounding department.
“They are very athletic,” said Huggins of the Chanticleers. “Cliff also plays multiple defenses. From time to time down the floor, you don’t know what they’re going to run.”
For West Virginia (15-20), wins in the CBI are nice – WVU defeated Grand Canyon 77-63 in its first round game – but this postseason tournament is mainly about getting the young Mountaineers – who are currently starting three freshmen and two junior – additional experience.
“The more games these guys play together, the better they are going to get,” said Huggins with an eye towards the future. “The opportunity to play five or six more games would be extremely beneficial to them.
“It’s about getting opportunities,” he added. “Being able to beat some people in Kansas City (where WVU won its first two games in the Big 12 Tournament) was good. Being able to win some more would be good going into next year, and it would help our fan base as well.”