Last march, as seventh-seeded West Virginia made its improbable run to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament, Kevin Pittsnogle had the rare honor of having his name turned into a verb. After averaging only 11.9 points in the regular season, he scored 17 against Creighton and 22 against Texas Tech in the NCAAs before knocking down 25 against Louisville as the Mountaineers fell agonizingly short of the Final Four with an overtime loss. By that game, in which the lumbering 6'11", 250-pound center made a career-high six three-pointers, it was common for TV announcers to exclaim of each victimized opponent, "He just got Pittsnogled!"
The term's primary definition is, as senior forward Mike Gansey explains, "when someone hits a three right in your face." But considering Pittsnogle's versatile skills--he's an excellent passer and led the team in charges taken--secondary definitions should be considered. It was Pittsnogle's insertion into the starting lineup in February that jump-started the Mountaineers, who had gotten off to a 2--6 start in Big East play. From that point on West Virginia went 13--4. "We wouldn't have had the run we had if it weren't for guys like him," says coach John Beilein.
The Mountaineers bring back four of their five starters this year, including Gansey, a scrappy, sharpshooting forward who earned a spot on the U.S. team in the World University Games this summer, but they'll miss leading scorer Tyrone Sally and top shot blocker D'Or Fisher, who graduated. In addition to the increased difficulty of this year's Big East competition, West Virginia faces a brutal out-of-conference schedule that includes UCLA and Oklahoma on the road and LSU at home. Nine of the Mountaineers' games are slated for national TV, which will bring heightened pressure but also added exposure. Gansey is already amazed by the team's celebrity status. "Just walking around campus, everyone's like, Hey, Mike, can I have an autograph? Can I have a picture?" he says.
The public clamor is even greater for Pittsnogle. The senior, a preseason Wooden Award candidate, is now a folk hero in Morgantown. And he figures to be even better this year after testing the waters at an NBA predraft camp in Chicago in the spring. "It helped me a great deal to work out with veteran players," he says. "It showed me the kind of intensity I need to have." --J.M.
In each of his four years as coach, John Beilein has welcomed a player who left another Division I school: D'Or Fischer (Northwestern State), Mike Gansey (St. Bonaventure), Robert Summers (Penn State) and Jamie Smalligan (Butler).
Coach: John Beilein 2004--05 record: 24--11 (8--8, T7 in Big East)
2005 tournament: Lost in Elite Eight to Louisville
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
Their system is built around three-point shots. If the shots are falling, they're hard to beat.... Usually you want to push a guy who's 6'11" away from the basket, but you want to get Pittsnogle inside the three-point line. He's not super athletic.... Gansey is a hard-nosed kid, a throwback. He's not real quick on defense, but they hide him in that zone.... Collins doesn't do anything well, but he doesn't do anything poorly.