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West Virginia Mountaineers (19-13) vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-6) Preview and Prediction

Updated: .March 15, 2012

The Mountaineers will face the Bulldogs of Gonzaga for their opening game of the NCAA tournament tonight.  America's Bookie has Gonzaga as a 1 point favorite.  The total for this game is set at 132 ½.

After finishing 8th in the Big East for the regular season West Virginia was knocked out of the conference tourney with a 67-71 OT loss to Connecticut.  The Mountaineers depend largely on seniors Kevin Jones and Darryl Bryant.  When teams have stopped them they pretty much stop the team.  They will also need a big game out of forward Deniz Kilicli to work on guys like Robert Sacre and Elias Harris for the Bulldogs.  West Virginia didn’t play poorly against Connecticut in their last outing, but will need to improve if they plan to beat Gonzaga.  Jones had 25 points in the game and Domique Rutledge had 11 boards against a Connecticut team that is hot right now.

Gonzaga lost in the championship game of the WCC tournament 74-78 in overtime to St. Mary’s.  It was a good effort but it seemed the Gaels just wanted it a little more.  Elias Harris led the Bulldogs with 22 points and 13 rebounds.  He will have Robert Sacre with him inside against the Mountaineers and will need to get offense on the outside from Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. on the outside.  This backcourt play was missing in the game against St. Mary’s.  If they can get hot or even pose a threat on the outside, it will open it up a lot more for Harris and Sacre.

This should be a good matchup in this first tournament game for both teams.  West Virginia averages some 15 offensive rebounds a game and Gonzaga will need to shut this down to prevent all those second chances.  Despite the records, you have to respect two things about the Mountaineers.  One is that they are a very physical team; some say the most physical in the Big East.  And two is that they are banging around against other teams in their conference while the WCC is considered a bit softer.  West Virginia averages 69.5 ppg while allowing their opponents 63.9.  The Bulldogs average 69.1 and allow their opponents 58.8.  Except for a good win over South Florida near the end of the season, the Mountaineers didn’t play all that well.  They will put up a fight and may prove us wrong, but I’m taking Gonzaga -1.

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