The West Virginia Mountaineers will present a defense that the Gonzaga Bulldogs have never seen before. A lot of people have said, well yeah, the Zags own Bob Huggins. To a certain degree, this is true.
But this is also a previous incarnation of Bob Huggins. The West Virginia teams the Zags have played in the past few years don’t really resemble this West Virginia team much at all (outside of that trademark physical play).
We spoke with Matt Kirchner of The Smoking Musket to give us the scoop on what we can expect tonight.
1) Bob Huggins has been working on this press defense for the past few years, and it seems to finally have clicked this year. What makes it so scary and what has allowed WV to succeed with it?
It's really been clicking since we went to it. This is probably the most talented team that we've rolled out since the Press Virginia switch, and we're now stocked up with players that have done nothing at WVU but press. The key thing that makes it different from other pressing teams is that it's relentless. We press off makes, misses, everything. It's coming. And just when you get used to going 1000 mph, Huggs will drop into a 1-3-1 for a few possessions to screw with you.
2) WV is a tad bit undersized in the frontcourt, especially compared to Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski. What do you see them doing to try and counteract the size differential?
Front court depth is the biggest weakness on this team, going back to Devin Williams leaving after last season to play in Europe and take care of his family. Elijah Macon has emerged as a force recently and Sagaba Konage has shown flashes as a freshman as both an emphatic dunker and an elite rim protector (but he's still at the point where he doesn't really know how to play basketball), but outside of those two we're just trotting out bodies at the four and five.
The key to me is to not be afraid to drive or post up and try to get your bigs into foul trouble. Our offense has succeeded recently by running through Elijah Macon and they'll need to continue to do so, even against the tough inside guys you'll throw at us.
3) WV seemed to have a couple of different games this tournament. Bucknell was able to keep the game surprisingly close and push the tempo, where as at times, Notre Dame looked like they had never seen a press before. What was the key different in the game, on the West Virginia side.
This is what really scares me about tomorrow and I hope I'm wrong, but Press Virginia, to me, will always fare better in the second game of a Thursday-Saturday tournament split. With the second game, its just enough time for our guys to rest up but not nearly enough time for our opponents to prepare for the press and I think that's definitely what you saw with Bucknell and Notre Dame.
4) This game should be a little bit closer than the seeding suggests. What does West Virginia need to do to win this game, and what does Gonzaga need to do to win the game?
West Virginia needs to hit its shots. That's cliche as hell but it is what it is. When you catch Press Virginia on a day where they decide to knock down jumpers, you're dead. They'll beat anyone in the country. The problem is, that happens on average about once every three weeks. You're on the good side of time with this.
Gonzaga needs to not hit the Frustration Event Horizon. That's when the pressure forces you into such anguish that you start throwing the ball around with no regard for where you are or even that you're in a competitive basketball game. This is how we beat Kansas and Baylor by 20. NWG will need to be on top form and avoid falling into the mental pits that Press Virginia can cause.
5) Finally, got a prediction? Love to hear it.
It's a close, hard fought game. This team does not have getting blown out in its DNA and there's a reason that the secondary nickname is Stress Virginia. I want to call a win, but I think that NWG and your bigs will make one or two more big plays down the stretch and I don't think we'll shoot nearly as well as we did against ND.
Zags 72 WVU 69. Not nice.