The West Virginia Mountaineers drew a 10th seed NCAA bid and are set to face the 7th seed Gonzaga Bulldogs from the West Coast Conference. The Mountaineers were fortunate to make the tournament having the lowest RPI and wins for any other at-large team and even more fortunate to open the tournament a short distance away in Pittsburgh.
Who is Gonzaga you ask? Gonzaga is a Catholic University located in Spokane, Washington. The Zags are making their 15th appearance in the tournament and are 16-14 in all previous match-ups. Head coach, Mark Few, has been with the team for 13 years and has led them to the tournament since starting his career there.
Gonzaga finished the season 25-6 overall. In their last game, they lost to St. Mary’s in the WCC championship game. Statistically, the Zags look like a pretty tough opponent and they shoot well. The Bulldogs are 30th in the nation in field goal percentage at 47.3%.They are 44th in the nation in PPG and RPG. They average 74 and 37.1, respectively.
Kevin Pangos and Elias Harris are the team’s top two scorers, both averaging a little more than 13 PPG. Harris also leads the team in rebounds averaging 8.7. These two are also dangerous from 3-point range shooting 40%. Another possible problem for the Mountaineers is the WCC defensive player of the year, Robert Sacre. Sacre, towering at 7 feet, averages 11.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG.
The Mountaineers will look to seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant to lead the team in this tournament. The duo definitely has the experience and has had success. This season, the Mountaineers have had difficulty making shots. They are currently 141st in the nation in field goal percentage at 44.1%. Fortunately, they have had success rebounding the ball and are 23rd in the nation in that category. The team averages 38.4 RPG.
Kevin Jones finished the season leading the team, and Big East but let’s not go there again, in PPG and RPG averaging 20.1 and 11.1, respectively. Bryant averages 17.2 PPG. Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne lead the team in assists combining for an average 6.3 per game.
The Mountaineers have a few advantages in this game. Maybe the most important is location. The Zags have a long trip to Pittsburgh and that could have an effect on the players. Another advantage, to the location, may be the presence of more Mountaineer fans. We all know the 6th man can play a big role in games. The Achilles heel of this Mountaineer team this season is closing games. They have let more than a few get away from them in the waning minutes of the game. The loss to UCONN is a prime example of this. It will be interesting to see how the team responds to this environment and the pressure of being in the NCAA tournament.
The game tips at 7:20 on Thursday and can be seen on TNT. As always, Let’s Go Mountaineers!