On Thursday night West Virginia will face a pretty big (literally) challenge when it takes on No.1 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. The Bulldogs, who hold a record of 34-1 on the year, play two seven footers in Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins that combine for 22.7 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. The Zags also feature two forwards in Jonathan Williams and Killian Tillie who sit at 6'10 and average 24 and 13 minutes per game respectively. Needless to say, the sheer size of Gonzaga jumped out at Bob Huggins as the veteran head coach put together a game plan for Thursday night's game.
"They have great size. One of them (Karnowski) is seven-foot-one and 300 pounds. He's a low block guy." noted Huggins. "Then they bring in another seven footer (Collins) that's really got good footwork and is really agile and skilled. Then they have a 6-10 guy at power forward. They're really big."
However Huggins also noted that the Mountaineers' have gone against some size in the Big 12 and stated that West Virginia will put an extra emphasis on blocking out against the Zags.
"We have played against size. Texas had great size. You just have to bock out a little higher and do a better job of not letting them get you under the basket where they can reach over top of you. I think that's the biggest thing. They're averaging almost 41 rebounds a game."
The fact that the Mountaineers have squared off with bigs like Jarrett Allen, Jonathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. should account for something heading into Thursday night, but general experience and intangibles shouldn't be overlooked either.
"I think we have got a bunch of guys who have played at a lot of different venues and played in front of big crowds," said Huggins. "I don't really think that affects them that much. Where did we go where there wasn't much of a crowd? I don't think (playing in big games) affects our guys that much and I think honestly we learned a little bit from the Kansas game (when the Mountaineers blew a late 14 point lead). Hopefully there were some other people who learned from that game as well."
And after beating Bucknell and putting forth one of its best performances of the season against Notre Dame, it's safe to say the Mountaineers' have learned from the misdoings of 2016's short lived NCAA tournament run.
"I would think (the Mountaineers) learned a lot from a year ago," said Huggins. "Our practices and preparation have been better and I think our focus has been better. They have played well in big games and in really hard environments. That part of it doesn't bother them."
Plenty of folks will be dialed in on West Virginia and Gonzaga's Sweet 16 match-up on Thursday evening. Whether or not the Mountaineers can counter the Bulldogs' size is yet to be seen, but don't expect the bright lights to bother West Virginia as it attempts to reach the Elite 8 for the first time since 2010.