While both West Virginia and SFA force turnovers with trapping styles, there are some differences. The Lumberjacks don't press nearly as much full court, and rely more on traps and denying passing lanes to gain takeaways. Nathan Adrian, who has played extremely well over the last month of the season, sees the similarities that many have pointed out between the two teams, but also points out one difference that should be noticeable. SFA doesn't possess a lot of height, which could work in WVU's favor when it is able to deploy its press. While SFA may be able to match West Virginia's quickness as some spots, especially at the point where Trey Pinkney buzzes around the floor, it might have some trouble contending with the way the Mountaineers cut down passing lanes in traps. Much of that is due to West Virginia's length, spearheaded by Jonathan Holton.
“Jon has a 7-6 wingspan, and can run like anybody, so you add those things together and it makes it difficult,” Adrian said.
Adrian could have included himself in that statement. Although perhaps not quite as fleet of foot as Holton, he has improved his footwork a great deal during his time at WVU, and can now cause defensive problems for opponents that can range the floor. For example, head coach Bob Huggins pointed out that Adrian's defense frustrated Baylor's Taurean Prince to no end during the regular season, and Prince is being viewed as an NBA draft pick in many quarters this year. Deemed to slow by many observers, Adrian actually has become very good in defending away from the basket, and his long arms and anticipation have made him a force on the press as well. His deflection and steal on an out of bounds play against Kansas helped spark a WVU first half rally, and he routinely draws defensive assignments on mobile foes.
The Morgantown native is respectful of SFA, observing that the Southland Conference champions are a talented team, but he believes the powers of Press Virginia can also be brought to bear.
“It's a good match up for us. I don't think they have seen a press with our intensity. Even though they face a press every day, I don't think they can do some of the things that we can do.”
Conversely, WVU will be playing against an opponent that is, on the average, shorter than it is. Featuring swing players such as Thomas Walkup (6-4), the inaptly named Lumberjacks swarm defensively and rely on movement and quickness to get open shots. That will be a challenge for the Mountaineers, who hope to trap and slow their opponents with different trapping tactics, which are build on fundamentals of the defensive stance.
“We'll still attack it the same, but you just have to sit down and move your feet better,” Adrian said of the keys to going against shorter players. “We go against our guards every day in individual [drills], so that's something we work.”.
Opposing that is the hope that West Virginia will be able to build a solid advantage on the boards. SFA, despite its lack of height, is ok on the offensive end, ranking in the top third nationally with 9.8 per game, but is near the bottom on the defensive glass, ranking 306th. Some of that deficiency is explained by the number of turnovers forced, which gives the Lumberjacks the ball without benefit of a rebound, but this is still an area in which WVU should be expected to build an advantage.
Although he's played on big stages during his career, including Madison Square Garden and three Big 12 Championships, Adrian still feels that the NCAAs are a bit different. The atmosphere of upsets and interest makes for a different feel, even from those Big 12 games featuring a pair of top ten teams or a visit to a pro arena.
”It's a little different,” he acknowledged as WVU prepared to go through its last practice on campus before departing for Brooklyn. “It's a bigger deal than you ever thought it was when you were watching it [on TV]. It's bigger arenas and more people, so it's a big deal. But I don't feel much pressure. It's still the same game.”