Now that the curse of Salt Lake City has been dismissed, it's time to look ahead to a trip to San Jose and the Sweet 16. Gonzaga has an awesome opportunity to advance to its first Final Four, but getting past a really good West Virginia team will not be easy at all. The one benefit that the Zags have is that they will have three full days to prep for this before they arrive in the Bay Area. I would be really concerned if this was an opponent that they only had 12-24 hours to get ready for due to the unique system they play.
With all that said, let's take a deep dive into West Virginia:
Who are the Mountaineers?
KenPom Ranking: No. 6
Big 12: Tied for 2nd with Baylor and Iowa St.
RPI (heading into Tournament): No. 24
Why are they in the Sweet 16?
This is an excellent team. They had a bit of a test against Bucknell in the opening game, but really showed how good they are against Notre Dame in a game they really controlled on both ends of the court.
You have to start with the "Press Virginia" nickname this team has earned. Obviously, they are a rare Power 5 team that presses. You see it occasionally from Louisville as well, but this is the team best known for it this season. Naturally, I can imagine a lot of friends are having horrible flash backs to the Syracuse game in the Sweet 16, when the Orange started pressing and immediately changed the game. The Zags won't be caught by surprise this year, and I would imagine a good chunk of preparation time has gone into how to beat this press.
If you are able to beat the press, you still have to beat a very aggressive halfcourt defense. The whole goal of the press is to get you out of a rhythm and into a frenzy offensively. Gonzaga will need to be prepared to face different looks in the halfcourt, including a 1-3-1 zone. Again, this is further reasoning around why the extra prep is so vital.
Where do they struggle?:
First off, despite the press and lots of different looks on the defensive end, this isn't necessarily an elite defensive team. They play good defense, but over the past three years, they have been consistently good. Offensively, is where they have taken the biggest strides. They do generate points off turnover, which is vital to what they do offensively. So the way to slow them down offensively is to not give up cheap points. You have to make them beat you in the halfcourt and make them make tough shots. If they hit the tough shots, and execute in the halfcourt, they will be difficult to beat. Also, just because they play aggressive, it doesn't mean they play at the fastest tempo in the country. They are aggressive and smart, but if the tempo gets fast, but stays under control, Gonzaga could be at a good place.