Morgantown, West Virginia – When the #11 ranked West Virginia Mountaineers play the #1 team in the nation, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, tomorrow evening in the Jimmy V Classic, they will face the toughest, best team in the nation on short notice.
Bob Huggins wants his team to be ready for anything they may face during this very unusual season. This is precisely why Huggins scheduled West Virginia to play Gonzaga in Indianapolis and why he welcomes the incredible grind and challenge that the Mountaineers face over the course of the entire season.
West Virginia is built to face adversity and built to overcome challenges. When the Mountaineers were down by nine points in the second half against Western Kentucky, many team would have buckled and accepted their fate. This West Virginia team, however, methodically inched their way back in by concentrating on the things they do best – rebounding, defense and defense.
West Virginia’s suffocating defense in the second half was the difference and it’s what led to a championship win against Western Kentucky and it will be what leads the Mountaineers to many tough victories this season.
With that said, Gonzaga has it all. Drew Timme, the 6’10 sophomore forward, is averaging 26.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while shooting 71% from the field. Corey Kispert, a 6’7 senior, literally does everything on the court well. He’s averaging 24.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 63% from the field. Timme and Kispert are both crafty and they are both winners.
Jalen Suggs, a freshman who was one of the top recruits in the nation, has been spectacular through two games, averaging 18.0 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game. Joel Ayayi, a 6’5 junior guard, plays exceptional defense and averages 10 points and 8 rebounds per game.
And this is against really, really good competition. Gonzaga handled #7 ranked Kansas rather easily, beating them 102-90 and then beat a very good Auburn team 90-67.
Gonzaga is ranked #1 in the nation for a reason and will not be an easy out, but the Mountaineers can (and will) beat them if they do the following:
Take care of the ball – West Virginia had only 3 turnovers in their opening game and then had 15 and 21 turnovers the next two games. The Mountaineers will need to keep their turnovers in the single digits against Gonzaga.
Shoot better – The Mountaineers are only shooting 41.1% from the field and 31.7% from three point range so far this season. Only Derek Culver and Taz Sherman are shooting over 50% right now. Sean McNeil, who is shooting 32.5% from the field, will need to be more consistent as well.
Rough Gonzaga up – Gonzaga has not – and likely will not – play anyone with the physicality of the Mountaineers. West Virginia should force the Bulldogs to shoot from three point range, where they are only making 30.8% of their shots. If the Mountaineers can pack it in inside the lane, force outside shots and mix in some full-court pressure (Press Virginia?), they can really cause major problems for Gonzaga.
Although the Mountaineers have not lived up to the preseason hype through 3 games, this is a perfect opportunity to make an early statement and to prove that they are among the best teams in the nation.