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West Virginia Vs. Gonzaga: 'Eers Face 'Zags To Start 2012 Tourney Run

Well, folks, it all comes down to this: win and keep the season alive, lose and go home. For a Mountaineer team that was as frustrating this season as it was fascinating, literally anything can happen. I wouldn't be surprised by a WVU run to the Sweet Sixteen, nor would I be perplexed by a blowout loss against Gonzaga.

West Virginia fans have to be happy about their team's draw in the NCAA tournament. Playing just 70 miles from home in the Consol Energy Center, the Mountaineers can expect to be greeted by a sea of gold when they take the court tonight. Will it be enough for WVU? Hard to say, but at this point in the year, anything can happen. There are no more surprises for WVU fans, and if you've read these previews all season long, it may seem like a broken record. That said, the Mountaineers are their own greatest rival, and if they can avoid the pitfalls that have slowed them during the season, they could make a lot of folks in Morgantown really, really happy. Here are the keys to the game:

  • Can Truck light it up? Simply put, when Truck Bryant goes for more than 15 points, the Mountaineers win. Less than that, and they lose. WVU, despite its freshmen having a full season under their belts, is still a three-man team. No one has been more frustrating than Bryant, but when his outside shot is dropping, he's a huge factor in the Mountaineers' success. It will also be crucial for Truck to get to the line early and often, where he's been WVU's most skilled three-point shooter.
  • Can Kilicli and Rutledge hold the paint? Gonzaga is led into battle by seven-foot senior center Robert Sacre. While Sacre may try and slow Kevin Jones on defense, when the 'Zags have the ball, he'll probably be marked by Deniz Kilicli and Dominique Rutledge. Hopefully DoMo and the Turk can keep him in check and off of the glass, without putting themselves on the bench with foul trouble. If that can happen, then WVU's front line will make things a lot easier on the rest of the team. Conversely, if these two are plagued with early fouls, it could be KJ against the world, and that seems to never work out.
  • Will KJ be KJ? Of course he will. I have no reason to believe he'll have anything less than 20 points and 10 rebounds. If he has any less, it will be next to impossible to win. That said, Kevin Jones is as consistent of a Mountaineer as any in my lifetime, so I'm not sweating it. There are justifiable concerns about every other member of the Mountaineers, just not No. 5.
  • Can the team focus on the task at hand? The entire state is looking ahead to a potential Saturday match-up against Ohio State. West Virginians tend to have a bit of "little brother syndrome" when it comes to OSU, so state residents are salivating at the chance. The team had better be focused on the task at hand, because if any Mountaineer looks past the 'Zags, it's possible they'll watch Ohio State from the couch on Saturday.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.