Welcome to the first installment of the Vintage NCAA Tournament. Since March Madness was cancelled because of COVID-19, we are going to be watching some old Gonzaga NCAA Tournament games, generally picked by the ones we can actually watch fully on YouTube. Join us tomorrow at 7:00 pm PT as we all kick off the YouTube at the same time and act like we are watching a Gonzaga game.
Considering the fact the Zags went into this season with a starting backcourt featuring two freshmen in Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos, making the NCAA Tournament is always the best-case scenario. The Zags picked up some nice wins along the way, defeating Notre Dame and Arizona. It would’ve been nice to pick up a win at Saint Mary’s or BYU, but with the WCC landing three teams in the tournament this season, all is well in that regard. Going into March as a No. 7 seed seems the right fit.
Drawing the No. 10 seed West Virginia Mountaineers also seems right in lockstep with the Selection Committees decisions. West Virginia does have some good wins — they beat Georgetown, Kansas State, and Miami. They also went 9-9 in conference play and lost in the first round of the Big East Tournament. But as the saying goes, a middle of the road Power 5 team is infinitely better than a more exciting Mid Major program....
Meet the opponent
West Virginia Mountaineers, 19-13, RPI #57
West Virginia is led by double-double machine Kevin Jones, who despite averaging 19.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, did not win the Big East Player of the Year. Jones is complemented by senior guard Darryl Bryant’s 16.9 points. After that, it is a rather steep drop off offensively, with only junior forward Deniz Kilicli averaging double-digit points.
Much of that stems from the fact that coach Bob Huggins has always liked his deep benches (nine players average at least eight minutes per game) and also because this offense is truly only middle of the ground. The Mountaineers don’t have a single consistent three-point threat on this squad. Bryant hucks up seven attempts per game but is only shooting 31 percent from long range. Statistically, their best outside shooter is Aaron Brown, who sees the court for 15 minutes per game. Collectively, West Virginia is ranked No. 322 in the nation in three-pointers.
Their bread and butter this season has been to pound it down low with Jones and let the man go to work. Robert Sacre is going to have a few inches on him, but he will have his hands full defensively. Jones doesn’t make stupid fouls and is only averaging an astonishing 1.2 fouls per game despite playing 38 minutes.
What to watch out for
An incredibly quick bounce back from Pangos.
The WCC Tournament Championship was a thrill to watch until Gonzaga fell in overtime. The frontcourt did its part in the game. Elias Harris, Rob Sacre, and Sam Dower were all fantastic. Pangos and Gary Bell Jr.? Not as much. Pangos especially struggled, shooting just 3-of-18 from the field and 1-of-10 from three-point range. If the Zags want to make sure West Virginia doesn’t pull the upset, the Zags need to do what they do best: outshoot opponents.
Attack the defensive glass.
West Virginia is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the nation. They led the Big East in offensive rebounds and finished No. 12 in the nation. Jones is phenomenal on that end, snagging 4.3 a game by himself, the fourth-best mark in the country. The Gonzaga bigs need to hit the defensive glass aggressively in this game. Gonzaga’s offense is better, but giving up easy buckets on second possessions will keep this game closer than it should be.