ORLANDO - There's absolutely no way that the University of Arkansas will get "Pittsnoggled" Sunday night in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic.
But even though star Kevin Pittsnoggle and running buddy Mike Gansey are no longer with West Virginia, the Mounties (5-0) will present quite the challenge for the Razorbacks (4-0) in the 6:30 p.m. title tilt at The Milk House inside Walt Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.
"They are almost like Gonzaga in that they lose all those names and all those talent like that, but they still seem to fire on all cylinders," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said of a team that has been to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in the next two seasons. "They look like a very good basketball team that is going to have a lot of success."
West Virginia comes into the championship game off of a 73-56 win over Montana on Thursday and a 79-54 thrashing of Western Michigan in which the Mounties scored the first 16 points of the game and led 44-11 at halftime.
"I know our team is excited about being in the championship game, we'll be up for it and our defense will be very strong against the unique offense they run," Heath said. "I think it is clearly two of the better teams, two of the higher name profile teams in the championship game."
Arkansas, which Heath chose five years ago over West Virginia when both coaching jobs were open, comes into the game off a 73-64 win over Marist on Friday and a 61-53 opening round win over Southern Illinois on Thanksgiving morning.
Those wins over mid-major teams who are their respective conference favorites and likely NCAA teams were against different styles than the Razorbacks normally see and now they will get their third different style to deal with in the event.
"In this tournament we faced a high, high pressure defensive team in Southern Illinois, we faced a sagging man-to-man team in Marist and now we face one of the more unique defenses in the 1-3-1 zone that West Virginia runs," Heath said. "We are getting a taste of a lot of different things."
Arkansas practiced Saturday night before heading off to see former Razorback Joe Johnson and his Atlanta Hawks play the Orlando Magic.
"These extra day will help us in just playing against something we don't see very often," Heath said. "Auburn in our league does this. They play that way a little bit that way with made shots, it's a zone , and on missed shots it's a man. Some our veteran guys have seen a little bit of this."
West Virginia, which lost four of its five starters off a team that had gone to the Elite Eight in 2005 and the Sweet 16 in 2006, has certainly come out better than head coach John Beilein had even dreamed.
"Because we have had two wins that were very sizeable, I didn't expect that Belilein said. "But it is difficult to prepare for in one day what some of things that some teams do…That's not how coaches measure their season is a one-day turnaround.
"We are a bunch of young kids trying to get better and who knows what we will do Sunday," Belein added. "But we are just pleased to be in this championship game."
Joe Alexander, a 6-8, 200-pound sophomore forwards, lead a balanced scoring attack with 13 points per game while lone returning starter Frank Young , a 6-5, 210-pound senior forward chips in with 10.5 points per game.
They are joined in the starting lineup by 6-2 junior guard Darris Nichols (9.8) , 7-0, 250-pound senior center Rob Summers (5.4), 6-6 forward Alex Ruoff (7.2).
"The athletes they have out there are a lot bigger, even from the guards spot where they are 6-4 and 6-5," Heath said. "They have got a lot of size out there and a lot of length. We have got to do a good job of getting penetration, getting good shots against the defense.
"In the first half of their game against Western Michigan, Western Michigan only had 13 shots and 20 turnovers," Heath added. "We are going to go back and look at some previous things that we've had on them, look at teams that has success on them even last year and try to pick the brains of some friends that we have around the business."
Belein planned to spend his Saturday brushing up on Arkansas.
"I know a few of their players from watching Gary Ervin playing in high school and AAU, McCurdy and their big kid with the long hair," Beilein said. "If you can beat Southern Illinois, then you are a pretty good team, a very good team."
Heath's squad has fallen behind in the first two games of the tournament. It's a trend he thinks needs to end on Sunday.
"The biggest thing I have to see right now is can we start the game a lot better," Heath said. "We can't afford to dig ourselves a hole against West Virginia the way we have our previous two ballgames.
Heath says the tournament has been perfect for Arkansas.
"This is just what the doctor ordered for us – to see a lot of different styles, to have teams come after us and to see us respond down the stretch," Heath said. "In the previous two games, we have played like seasoned veterans down the stretch and hopefully that is something that we will continue to build on and carry that through the season."
O o o
Heath was asked to talk about the time that he had the choice to take West Virginia head coaching job, but chose to take the Arkansas one instead.
"They were serious discussions about the job," Heath said. "I was offered the job, but I just wanted to come visit Arkansas before I took the job before I made any decisions. Obviously I came where I wanted to be."
"At that particular time - and I still feel that way – I think the ceiling for Arkansas basketball is higher," Heath said. "That doesn't mean West Virginia is not a great program and he is doing a phenomenal job. We started in a lot tougher situation than the West Virginia job obviously , but I just felt like Arkansas was a program that had won a national championship and been to Final Fours and had a high ceiling."
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