NCAA game preview: Gonzaga vs. West Virginia
4:20 p.m. Thursday in Pittsburgh (TNT) Record: 25-6 overall, 13-3 in West Coast Conference (2nd). Seed: 7. RPI: 24. Bid: At-large. Tournament record: 16-14. Best...
4:20 p.m. Thursday in Pittsburgh (TNT)
Record: 25-6 overall, 13-3 in West Coast Conference (2nd).
Seed: 7. RPI: 24. Bid: At-large.
Tournament record: 16-14. Best finish was in 1999, when it played in the Elite Eight.
Last tournament experience: 2011 (lost in 3rd round to Brigham Young).
What the Zags have to do to win: Gonzaga must keep Mountaineers away from the offensive glass, where they average 15 boards a game, and keep a handle on Kevin Jones, a matchup problem for GU. On offense, Zags need to balance some inside work from Robert Sacre and Elias Harris with perimeter offense from Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., a backcourt element missing in their WCC final loss to Saint Mary's.
|F||Guy Landry Edi||6-6||Jr.||5.6||2.4||0.9|
|G||Gary Bell Jr.||6-1||Fr.||10.0||2.4||1.9|
Record: 19-13 overall, 9-9 in Big East Conference (8th).
Seed: 10. RPI: 56. Bid: At-large.
Tournament record: 25-24. Best finish was national runner-up in 1959.
Last tournament experience: 2011 (eliminated in 3rd round by Kentucky).
What the Mountaineers have to do to win: Shooting has been a bugaboo much of the year for WVU; it hit just .302 from three-point range, and of players who attempted more than 15, only one hit better than 33 percent. So the Mountaineers need to complement Jones' inside-outside game with some perimeter play, establish their trademark toughness and win the battle of freshman guards on the floor.
Who has the edge?
On the perimeter: It's simplistic to say that when Pangos is scoring for the Zags, good things will happen, but that's the way it's played out the past month. When he struggled at Brigham Young and against Saint Mary's in the WCC final, Gonzaga lost. Bell is a stout defender and GU's best three-point shooter. Bryant is a rugged, thick scorer for the Mountaineers with a ton of experience, but he's also had his moments of inconsistency, going for 32 in a win over Providence but getting blanked the next game against Notre Dame. Edge: West Virginia.
Among the bigs: Sacre can be a force offensively with hooks near the hoop, but struggles with double teams — if West Virginia chooses to go that way. Harris can be a dynamic scorer and he's also kicked up his rebounds markedly, averaging 13.4 over his last five WCC games. Jones, the WVU All-American, will be the best big on the floor, and the Zags might have to resort to a zone to try to slow him. Kilicli is a pounder who relies on an on-again, off-again hook shot. Despite Jones, the sum of the parts appears to tilt to the Zags. Edge: Gonzaga.
First off the bench: WVU starts Keaton but he usually departs quickly. Then it goes with Browne in a three-guard alignment with two freshmen. The Mountaineers have been thinned by injuries and an ineligible player. Gonzaga has more bench depth, but it's been inconsistent as Carter has struggled, while Stockton did down the stretch as well until a breakout against Saint Mary's. Dower is a force posting up, and Mike Hart provides hustle minutes at the 3 spot. Edge: Gonzaga.
Coach: WVU's Bob Huggins, despite some controversy in his career, could find himself in the Hall of Fame someday, as his teams reflect his hard-bitten personality. The Zags' Mark Few has taken every one of his 13 teams to the NCAA tournament, a record for the start of a career. Edge: West Virginia.
Prediction: The Zags look like the better team here, if the moment isn't too big for the freshman guards. Gonzaga, 67-61.
The headline for this article, originally published March 14, 2012, was corrected March 14, 2012. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Gonzaga's opponent. Gonzaga is playing West Virginia.