#10 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. #7 Gonzaga Bulldogs -1.5
Gonzaga coach Mark Few has to be silently wondering what he and the Zags have done to deserve the ire of the Selection Committee. The Zags have often been the source of controversy for being seeded lower or more unfavorably than many would have expected or thought they deserved, but this year they received a more unique and subtle twist of the knife. They got an appropriate seed at a #7. They play a reasonable and beatable opponent in West Virginia…
And for some reason they get sent to play the game in Pittsburgh, a mere fifty minutes from the campus of West Virginia and just a short drive for their loyal and rabid fan base. It frankly seems unfair to me that a #10 seed would receive that marked of an advantage. In my humble opinion, Gonzaga got really screwed on this one.
I think that is the difference in tonight’s game. These teams are pretty evenly matched. I’d give Gonzaga the edge with their wings, I’d give Truck Bryant and West Virginia the edge over Pangos and the Gonzaga guards, and I’d call the interior play a push, with both Robert Sacre of Gonzaga and Denis Kilicli (WVU) capable back-to-the-basket scorers and reasonable defenders (Sacre much more so than Kilicli, but both are at least serviceable).
In terms of schedule, the Big East is obviously more challenging than the West Coast Conference, but few teams in the country challenge themselves pre-conference more than the Gonzaga Bulldogs. They own wins over Notre Dame by 20, Arizona by 11, Butler and Xavier, and played tough against Michigan State and Illinois (before the complete implosion, that was a decent ballclub). The point is, Gonzaga will in no way be intimidated by the physical nature of the Mountaineers. They went head-to-head with Michigan State, who might be the most physical team in the country.
For West Virginia, it was a pretty mediocre season by Coach Huggins’ recently raised standards. Since his arrival, West Virginia has been a major player on a national level and hasn’t spent a ton of time recently as opening round underdogs. The slumped a bit down the stretch, losing three of five, including losses to UConn, Marquette and Notre Dame. However, in the NCAA tournament, West Virginia usually finds a way to over achieve. Gice them a de facto opening round home game, and I think the odds grow even stronger. Give me the Mountaineers to make for yet another long, disappointing trip back to Spokane early for Zag fans.
Free Pick: West Virginia +1.5