The two head coaches whose teams will face off in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at 5:15 p.m. Sunday at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis have a history that goes back many, many, many years.
On Nov. 27, 1976, Bob Huggins was a senior guard at West Virginia, and Jim Boeheim was a first-year head coach in his second game leading Syracuse.
The contest was part of season-opening tournament in Springfield, Massachusetts. Boeheim had begun his head coaching career with a 75-48 victory over Harvard the night before, while Huggins and the Mountaineers had defeated UMass, 89-77.
SU featured a young squad with sophomore Dale Shackleford and freshmen Roosevelt Bouie and Louis Orr, each of whom would eventually blossom into a superstar. That day in western Massachusetts, though, WVU came out on top, 83-79, as Sid Bostick pumped in 22 points and Maurice Robinson added 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Mountaineers to offset the 21 points by Bouie, Syracuse’s 7-foot center.
That game is still a topic of conversation whenever Huggins and Boeheim, who are now veteran head coaches leading their respective alma maters, get together.
“Every time I see him I bring it up, but he doesn’t want to talk about it,” gloated Huggins with a smile clearly seen under his NCAA-mandated mask. “That was a big comeback for us. We were down and made a big run at the end.”
West Virginia’s point guard, Huggins had only two points to go along with one assist and two steals in 32 minutes of action in that win, though he did average 13.2 points and 3.8 assists per game during his senior season.
“He was a good player, and they had a good team,” remembered Boeheim of Huggins. “We didn’t do the things we needed to do, but we learned from that game.
“We only lost a couple more regular season games that year. We got one back on them later that year and beat them in Syracuse (86-71).”
SU finished 26-4 that season, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tourney before falling to Charlotte, 81-59.
On the other hand, after a 9-2 start to the 1976-77 campaign, West Virginia suffered through some mid-year struggles and finished 18-11.
That season was the start of Boeheim’s legacy, and it continues 45 years and 981 wins later.
Huggins has been a head coach for 39 years himself, 14 of those at WVU, and posted career win No. 900 in Friday’s 84-67 victory over Morehead State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The two coaches have gotten to know each other well since that day in 1976. Huggs refers to the Syracuse coach as “Bo.”
“A few other people do – P.J. Carlesimo (a former coach), and a lot of people from Lyons (New York, Boeheim’s hometown),” chuckled Coach Boeheim when asked if Huggins is the only one who calls him “Bo.”
Syracuse has usually gotten the best of West Virginia on the court in a basketball rivalry that stretches back over a century. SU holds a 34-16 advantage in the all-time series. Boeheim is 22-6 against WVU and 5-1 against Huggins-coached Mountaineers. Even West Virginia’s Final Four team of 2010 lost a heartbreaker to the Orange, 72-71, in the WVU Coliseum.
One of the most meaningful meetings between the two was Syracuse’s 74-69 overtime win against West Virginia in the semifinals of the 2009 Big East Tournament. The ‘Cuse used that Garden Party to kickstart its run to the NCAA’s Sweet 16, one of 23 times it has reached that round, which includes a national title in 2003.
That weekend in Madison Square Garden is something a younger generation of Boeheim still remembers with fondly though with a touch of PTSD.
“I have a lot of memories of West Virginia. It was always a good game,” said Buddy Boehiem, who is a 6-foot-6 junior guard on his father’s current team. He leads the Orange in scoring with an average of 17.7 points per game. “A specific moment? It would definitely be after the six-overtime game as a kid (in which SU defeated UConn 127-117 in the quarterfinals of the 2009 Big East Tournament). I was nine years old, and in the second overtime, we had to go back to the locker room because I was sweating and crying; I was a mess. Me and my mom went back to the locker room, and Coach Huggins was back there and he sat with us eating carrots. He was waiting to see who the winner was, and when it was over, he told us, ‘We’ll see you guys tomorrow.’ Ever since then I’ve liked him. We beat them the next night in overtime, so that also helped. He’s a great coach.”
Buddy has memories of West Virginia-Syracuse games of the past, and he also knows a Mountaineer of the present.
“One of their best players, Derek Culver, I played with him at Brewster (Academy), so I’m looking forward to playing against him,” said the younger Boeheim.
“Derek is a great player, someone I got close to at Brewster,” added Buddy, who is one of the nation’s premier 3-point snipers, having made 70 of 179 this season (39.1%). “He’s a great guy. He’s a monster down low. He’s a lefthander, so that’s something I’m going to tell (SU big men Marek Dolezaj and Jesse Edwards), force him right even though he can finish with both hands, just try to contain him. There’s only so much you can do with a guy like that. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Huggs vs. Bo, Buddy vs. D.C., Mountaineers vs. Orange – It’s an NCAA Tournament matchup that is years in the making.