It's clear the Mountaineers haven't pieced together their finest performances of late. Struggles against Texas, Kansas State and an Iowa State team which resembles the play of Notre Dame have left mild discouragement in some facets. West Virginia has been excellent in stretches, but hasn't been able to pull away from teams against which it has more talent. The Mountaineers opened a 15-point lead over Bucknell midway through the first half, then saw the lead dwindle to as little as three over a nine-minute stretch in which the Bison went on a 21-9 run.
To its credit, the best aspects of this team is that it finds a way to win far more often than not. Pound the boards and use the depth against Bucknell. Outlast Kansas State with a 1-3-1 zone look that held the Wildcats to just four made field goals over their final 19 possessions. Ride a red-hot Jevon Carter to a Big 12 quarterfinal victory over Texas. WVU, in fact, has won seven of nine in a stretch in which it really should have 10 victories in a dozen games if not for a late collapse at Kansas. But that grittiness, and the ability to find a way via rebounding, varied defenses, finding the hot hand, using depth and even clutch free throw shooting are the definition of what wins this time of year. If one portion isn't working, the Mountaineers have other options.
It's an approach that will be needed against Notre Dame. The Irish are similar to Iowa State in that they want to spread the floor and play five out or four out and get the ball on the interior to forward Bonzie Colson, a finalist for the Karl Malone Trophy as the best power forward in the nation. The 6-5, 225-pounder is Notre Dame's answer to ISU's Deonte Burton, but isn't able to handle as well. He's a bigger threat on the blocks, however, and the junior can create instant mismatches in the paint. At a team-high 17.5 points and 10 boards per game, Colson will be among the most difficult of assignments for WVU defenders. If he draws Nate Adrian, it's a strength issue on the blocks. But Elijah Macon might not be able to extend as needed, or handle the foot work. The other option is to trot out the zone look and see if Notre Dame can attack it properly, though that risks solid outside looks for a team which can shoot.
It's an interesting match-up for the Mountaineers, who will have to pound the glass against Notre Dame. The Irish don't typically challenge for rebounds on the offensive end as much as one would expect, and it's allowing lesser foes to match the Irish on the boards. Princeton, for example, had 33 rebounds to Notre Dame's 36, and limited the five-seed to just nine on the offensive end. This is an area West Virginia must not only win, but win handily. The Mountaineers aren't likely to turn Notre Dame over - the Irish are incredibly composed and commit turnovers on just 12 percent of their possessions, tops in the NCAA - and so West Virginia must find other ways to generate additional shots and possessions.
WVU Notes and Quick-Hitters
• West Virginia improved to 3-0 in NCAA Tournament games in Buffalo with the win over Bucknell. The Mountaineers went 2-0 in 2010 en route to an appearance in the Final Four. • WVU’s 86 points are the team’s most in the NCAA Tournament since a 102-72 victory against North Carolina A&T in the 1982 first round. • Overall, the Mountaineers improve to 28-27 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. • West Virginia had five players score in double figures for the second time this season, also doing so in the season’s second game against Mississippi Valley State – a 107-66 victory on Nov. 14. • Nate Adrian recorded his third double-double of the campaign with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while matching his career high with three blocks. • Jevon Carter recorded one steal on Thursday and moved into a tie for second place on WVU’s single-season list with 90 this year (matching Greg Jones for second in 1983). He trails just Damian Owens’ record of 97 in 1998 by seven. • Lamont West nearly tripled his season average by scoring 15 points in the win, making 6-of-7 field goals. West was averaging 5.6 points in 12.1 minutes this season and his 15 points on Thursday mark his third-highest scoring game of the campaign. • The Mountaineers have now scored 2,873 points this season – just 11 points shy of the school’s all-time record of 2,884 in 1959.
Notre Dame Notes and Quick-Hitters
• No. 14 Notre Dame is 26-9 overall and finished 12-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season. • The Fighting Irish have won nine of the last 11, including a 60-58 win over Princeton on Thursday. • Notre Dame is 5-4 away from home and 5-3 on neutral courts this season. • Mike Brey is 382-186 in his 17th season at Notre Dame. He is 481-238 in his 22nd season overall. • Colson is the only ACC player to finish the season averaging a double-double. • Notre Dame is in the NCAA second round for the third consecutive season, the best since Brey's first three years. •The Irish are 5-1 in their last six NCAA Tournament games decided by five points or less. •The Irish rank ninth all-time in NCAA history in NCAA appearances with 36; they are 39-38 all-time in the tourney. • Notre Dame has a program-record 82 victories over the past three seasons. The senior class can set the school record for a four-year stretch with one more victory. • Brey is 11 wins away from setting a school record for victories as a head coach.
• West Virginia and Notre Dame, former members of the Big East from 1995-2012, will meet for the 40th time in all-time series play. • The Fighting Irish hold a 27-12 series advantage that began in 1969. • Notre Dame has won two in a row in the series, but West Virginia has won four of the last seven. • The last meeting took place on Feb. 22, 2012, a 71-44 Notre Dame win in South Bend, Indiana. • Bob Huggins had 14 points in an 81-68 WVU win over Notre Dame in Morgantown on Feb. 19, 1977. • West Virginia is 2-2 against the Fighting Irish on neutral courts. • Bob Huggins is 4-5 against Mike Brey and against Notre Dame all-time (4-4 at WVU and 0-1 at Cincinnati).