Gonzaga vs. West Virginia 2013 game preview: Zags get first true taste of the road

Pangos in his baby years against West Virginia. - Charles Leclaire-US PRESSWIRE

Excluding the Maui Invitational, the Bulldogs have enjoyed the cozy confines for the McCarthy Athletic Center for quite some time.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs will need to carry the good tidings from one of their more impressive wins of the season as they head on the road for the first time against the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Technically, the Zags already had their nice little Thanksgiving vacation in Maui, but this will be their first true road game of the non-conference. If the Bulldogs turn in the effort that pushed the Aggies aside, the Mountaineers shouldn't be any problem. The Zags have faced West Virginia twice and posted easy wins each time.

The two teams are also moving a bit in opposite directions considering their opponent. West Virginia has lost its last 13 straight games against ranked opponents and Gonzaga has won 11 of their last 12 true road games.

Meet the opponent

West Virginia Mountaineers (6-3), Kenpom #59, RPI #58

West Virginia is undefeated at home this season and has posted some almost impressive wins, averaging a 29 point victory at home this season in five games. Those are almost impressive wins, except for the fact that the Mountaineers have defeated the likes of Mount St. Marys, Duquesne, Georgia Southern, Presbyterian and Loyola Maryland -- not exactly fearsome opponents. Away from the confines of the WVU Coliseum, things haven't gone as well. They did post a win over Old Dominion, but have a loss to Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Missouri away from home.

The Mountaineers aren't a very flashy team, but they do score in high volumes. Their 83.6 points per game is good for 31st in the nation, but to get to that point they have to huck up a lot of attempts. West Virginia ranks 45th in two point attempts, but only 134th in two point percentage. One thing that the Mountaineers do well, and much of this is thanks to Eron Harris, is shoot the three. The Mountaineers are ranked eighth in the nation, shooting 44 percent as a team from beyond the arc. Harris, the sophomore guard, leads the team with 18.9 points per game and averages close to three three-pointers a game.

He is one half of a potent scoring backcourt, with junior guard Juwan Staten running the show, and doing a fantastic job in the process. Staten averages 16.3 points per game and 7.2 assists per game. Those 7.2 assists are good for the lead in the Big 12 so far. West Virginia runs out a pretty small line-up. Harris stands at 6'3 and Staten is 6'1. Up front, the Mountaineers don't have very much size to work with. Freshman foward Devin Williams is their biggest contributor, averaging 10 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, and he stands at the tall end of the median at 6'9.

What to watch for

Honestly, I don't see a lot of ways that West Virginia pulls this game out. Then again, those could be the famous last words. But if Dower and Gerard Coleman continue their hot trends, the Mountaineers will absolutely have their hands full. West Virginia are one of the few teams who the Zags hold a legitimate size advantage over, and after watching the Bulldogs go inside as often as possible against New Mexico State, I think they'll have the same gameplan on the brain.

This could be the game that Coleman also snags the starting spot from David Stockton. In the first two games to open the season, Coleman showed what he is capable of when he gets the minutes. Mark Few started to pull one of his standard Mark Few disappearing specials, but luckily for us, and the team, Coleman has very firmly stated his case for more minutes. Against New Mexico State, Coleman was electric. Look past the 21 points in 21 minutes. Coleman ran the floor constantly, generating quick fast break points and acting the part of an all-around nightmare. This is the Coleman everyone was hoping for when he came to Gonzaga.At the same time, Coleman's elevated game has come at the expense of Stockton in the past two games. After averaging almost 30 minutes in the first seven games, Stockton's only averaged 19 minutes in the past two games. He was sloppy with the ball against Coppin State and limited by foul trouble against New Mexico State. Either way, Coleman is the better player and it really seems like one more solid game and he'll find himself in the starting lineup.

Yeah, West Virginia is capable of shooting the long ball well. But in this game, I'm not too worried about it. West Virginia doesn't have a solid inside-out game established, and honestly, few teams can get engaged in a shooting match with the way the Zags are hitting and expect to come out with a win. According to Kenpom, we have the highest ranked adjusted offense in the nation. According to hard statistics, we are the best shooting team in the nation, fourth in three-pointers made and second in three-point percentage. According to all metrics, we are a better team. Thing is, true road games can't ever be taken for granted, and with this team getting its first taste it will be most interesting to see how they respond to the hostile environment.

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