WVU basketball: Mountaineers are No. 10 seed in East Region, will face Gonzaga
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's players and coaches woke up Sunday morning and went about their business and their basketball without a care in the world.
The peril presented with 13 losses, no wins in the conference tournament and a dangerously low RPI for an at-large team never entered the minds of any of the Mountaineers.
"I knew we were in," said senior Kevin Jones. "It was all about who we'd be playing and where we'd be playing."
The hunch couldn't have been more correct and the Mountaineers couldn't be happier with the outcome.
WVU is the No. 10 seed in the East Region and plays Thursday at 7:20 p.m. (TNT telecast) against the 7 seed, Gonzaga. The game is also in Pittsburgh, where WVU last felt this good after winning at Pitt last month, at the Consol Energy Center, where the Mountaineers beat Duquesne last year.
"It's great for us," said senior Truck Bryant, who with Jones joins Cam Thoroughman and Jonnie West as the only WVU players to ever make it to four NCAA Tournaments. "It's an hour away. Our fans, I'm sure, will be there. It's important to have your fan base when you're in that environment. It makes it that much more fun."
The Bulldogs (25-6) lost to St. Mary's (Calif.) in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship last week. They're making their 14th straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
The winner plays Saturday against the winner of Thursday's other East game in Pittsburgh between top-seeded Ohio State (27-7) and 15 seed Loyola (Md.) University.
The Greyhounds (24-8) won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.
WVU and Gonzaga have never played, but WVU Coach Bob Huggins has met the Bulldogs twice before and once in a NCAA Tournament game.
Official Mike Kitts famously ejected Huggins in Cincinnati's first-round loss in 2003.
The schools had two common opponents in the regular season. The Bulldogs beat Notre Dame 73-53 in November.
The Fighting Irish were 2-0 against the Mountaineers with 55-51 and 71-44 final scores.
Gonzaga beat Oral Roberts 67-61 in December while WVU beat Oral Roberts 78-71 in the season-opener.
Freshman guard Kevin Pangos leads the Bulldogs in scoring at 13.8 points per game. Junior forward Elias Harris adds 13.1 points per game.
Both shoot 40 percent from 3-point range.
Senior center Robert Sacre averages 11.7 points and 6.3 boards per game.
Freshman guard Gary Bell. Jr. averages 10 points per game and shoots 47.4 percent from 3-point range.
Sophomore point guard David Stockton, son of NBA Hall of Famer and Gonzaga great John Stockton, averages 3.8 points and 2.4 assists per game.
The Bulldogs, No. 25 in the NCAA's RPI, do a few things well to challenge WVU's strengths and weaknesses. They rank No. 44 in scoring (74 points per game), No. 30 in field-goal percentage (47.3), No. 41 in 3-point field-goal percentage (37.6) and No. 19 in rebounding margin (plus-6.5 per game).
The Mountaineers are No. 151 in scoring defense (66.2 points per game) and No. 243 in field-goal percentage defense (44.6), but also No. 65 in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (31.7) and No. 14 in rebounding margin (plus-6.8)
"They're a Big East team, and when it comes to Big East teams, it's going to be very, very physical and they're going to come out with the mentality to kick our teeth in," the 6 foot, 7 inch, 240-pound Harris said. "We need to come out and be just as physical. That's a key for us winning this game."
Gonzaga, led by 13th-year Coach Mark Few, fancies itself as a physical team, too, and looks forward to what the players said are comparable matchups with the Mountaineers.
"I'm salivating over playing outside the West Coast Conference with different officials, just for the fact that I know it's going to be physical and it's going to be a tough tournament game," said the 7-foot, 260-pound Sacre. "You know what? It's going to be a bruiser game and I think both of us know that."
WVU is making its fifth straight NCAA Tournament despite the lowest RPI (56) of any of the 37 at-large teams and a RPI lower that a list of teams left out, including Marshall inside the state and Seton Hall inside the Big East.
The Mountaineers also had the fewest wins for an at-large team. Connecticut, South Florida and Texas all had 13 losses as at-large teams, but WVU was the fewest games above .500.
"I always had us as a lock," Huggins said. "I thought we were in. When you look at our numbers, it's not even close."
The Mountaineers made up for losses with one of the nation's toughest schedule. They finished No. 16 in strength of schedule and the Big East Conference was No. 2 in the RPI. WVU won nine games against the RPI's top 100, played such 19 games and was rewarded.
"What makes you think I'm happy?" Huggins said. "You're not going to get the ticket requests I am."
THE WVU ticket office will have a very limited number of tickets available for the WVU-Gonzaga NCAA Tournament game Thursday in Pittsburgh at the Consol Energy Center. The game time has not yet been determined.
Mountaineer Scholar and above members of the Mountaineer Athletic Club who are basketball season ticket holders may request two tickets beginning at 9 a.m. today, by calling 1-800-WVU GAME. Ticket requests must be placed by 5 p.m. today.
Ticket requests are not guaranteed and will be filled based on availability and MAC priority. Donors will be notified via email of the status of their ticket request no later than 6 p.m. today.
A limited number of tickets will be made available to WVU students at 3 p.m. today. WVU students with a valid ID may purchase one ticket to Thursday's game on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Mountaineer Ticket Office in the WVU Coliseum.
Student tickets must be purchased in-person.
Tickets are available for the West Virginia sessions only in Pittsburgh. All tickets purchased through the WVU ticket office will be distributed at the West Virginia will call window beginning two hours before the Mountaineers' session at the Consol Energy Center.
Only VISA, MasterCard, America Express and Discover cards will be accepted for payment. Should West Virginia advance to play in the third round Saturday, fans will automatically receive and be charged for the third-round session.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.