PITTSBURGH - If there is an overriding theme - as well as a little-noticed undercurrent - to West Virginia's opener in its 25th NCAA Tournament appearance, it may be a surprising one.
It's freshman orientation.
All season, WVU Coach Bob Huggins has bemoaned the fact that his Mountaineers - now down to eight grant-in-aid players, five of whom never have played in March Madness - need their freshmen to grow up faster than they have.
Gonzaga Coach Mark Few knows that feeling of dealing with youth, too.
When the No. 7 seeded Zags (25-6) and Mountaineers (19-13) tip off tonight at 7:20 (TNT telecast), the team that gets more proficiency and production from its freshmen may be the one advancing to third-round play Saturday.
"We have a bunch of young guys who are new to college basketball," Few said. "They're excited for everything. Excited our name popped up there again (on the bracket); excited about the matchup.
"We knew we were going to play somebody good and lo and behold, we are playing somebody good."
The first NCAA Tournament game in the short history of the 19,100-seat Consol Energy Center is the 8-9 seed game at 12:40 p.m. today between Kansas State (21-10) and Southern Mississippi (25-8). Top East Region seed Syracuse (31-2) - minus suspended center Fab Melo - and UNC Asheville (24-9) follow at approximately 3:10.
After WVU-Gonzaga open the night session, second seed Ohio State (27-7) faces Loyola of Maryland (24-8) in a 9:50 nightcap.
While this is the 14th straight March that Gonzaga has played in the big bracket, Few said this is a different Bulldogs team.
"This is easily the youngest team I've ever brought into a tournament," Few said. "But, you know, this team shoots the ball or can shoot the ball extremely well. It's probably one of the more balanced teams we've had. We can score, double-figure score, at a variety of positions.
"I mean, we seem to be able to play ... we can grind it hopefully if we have to, and we like to play fast, too. It's pretty versatile in that way.
Definitely, the youth is probably the thing we haven't dealt with in a tournament setting like this."
It's no secret that Gonzaga's main defensive focus will be trying to limit WVU senior forward Kevin Jones, who has 21 double-doubles and led the Big East Conference in scoring and rebounding this season.
"He's a great player, and we've got to limit his touches, make sure he gets no easy baskets," said Gonzaga's fifth-year senior, 7-foot center Robert Sacre. "He's a great offensive rebounder; that's where he gets most of his baskets.
"We've got to make sure nothing comes easy for him and when it comes to simple plays, we've got to make sure he doesn't catch the ball down in close ... You have to box him out, make sure you keep a body on him, be physical."
While the Zags start a pair of freshman guards in a versatile attack led by their top scorer, Canadian Kevin Pangos (13.5 ppg), he admits that the rookies in the game - freshman and junior college players - have to grasp the elements.