Combining the short prep, always a concern of WVU head coach John Beilein – yet one that works wonders for the Mountaineers' style – with road travel should prove more difficult. But West Virginia's three assistants have turned post-bracketlogy team breakdown into a science.
Jerry Dunn immediately left the area where the team watched the Selection Sunday after the announcement. He was in his office minutes later, unavailable for comment and breaking down already-out-of-the-can film on SIU. WVU had a half-dozen films on Southern Illinois as part of their archives. The staff tapes almost every game on television, plus ones on Direct TV and other satellite providers, giving them a myriad of minutes to critique, analyze and evaluate.
"We will assemble all the game plans in the next couple days," first-year assistant coach Mike Maker said. "We compose a list of schools, anybody that is playing. We will have a half dozen tapes on Southern Illinois, and then with Iowa, like any major conference team, we will have any more."
Matt Brown, the vet on Beilein's staff, will scout Northwestern State, the first college of former WVU center D'or Fischer. The Demons beat Southland Conference regular-season champion Sam Houston State 95-87 in the final for their second NCAA Tournament bid. The only other bid in its 30 years of Division I basketball came when Fischer was on the team and it won the first-ever play-in game against Winthrop to become a No. 16 seed before being drilled by Illinois.
"With direct TV, you get most of those films pretty fast," Brown said. "And there is a film service now you can get. But we are excited, whatever draw we take. That's the beauty of the NCAA Tournament."
Maker will take Iowa, because he because he had the Hawkeyes when WVU could have possibly played them in the Guardians Classic in Kansas City, Mo. The loss to Texas cost WVU that chance, and the Longhorns beat Iowa in the final. Iowa is making its 23rd NCAA appearance in school history.
"Iowa is a lot like us," Maker said. "They are a senior-dominated team. They had great chemistry. They were well-coached and shared the ball and were very experienced. We cannot look past Southern Illinois, but if we were to get past and draw Iowa, they are the Big Ten champs and a very good team."
Another encouraging fact is that West Virginia and Beilein are unfamiliar with SIU, Iowa and Northwestern State. Beilein's system works best on short prep and unfamiliarity, two things that West Virginia has working for it. There was worry that the Mountaineers might end up playing a team like Kent State, that it had scrimmaged and played in the NIT in Beilein's second year.
"I would prefer to play someone I do not have any history with," Beilein said. "I might eat my words Friday. For example, (at Richmond) we played against UNC-Wilmington for years. This might backfire, and they might be so good offensively and defensively that we can't play them. But I am glad. Maybe Southern Illinois feels the same way."
Also helping West Virginia is the game's location in The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., just a 4.5 hour drive from Morgantown. Beilein and the assistants made it clear they did not want to have to travel out west. Detroit should be an easily-managed trip, and with WVU traveling commercial, a readily available flight from Pittsburgh.
"I am thrilled just to be in the NCAA Tournament," Beilein said. "This is terrific for us to go back-to-back years. We will go anywhere they want us to go. But for us to be on a direct flight, commercial, is great for us."
Duke is the No. 1 seed in the Atlanta Region, and the top seed overall, and Texas, a team which WVU led in the final minute, is the second seed in the region. WVU will also be lumped with Pitt, who is in the Oakland region, headed by Memphis, but will also play its opening round games in Auburn Hills. WVU and Pitt would not meet again until the Final Four.
"Our guys understand what these teams take," said Brown, who has the prep for Northwestern State. "Creighton gave us a good of a game as anybody except Wake Forest. We will be ready to play."
Southern Illinois has won four in a row after a late-season three-game skid. Its biggest wins are likely victories over Bradley or Wichita State, and though those names won't impress, WVU can ill-afford to overlook a team which held foes to 56.2 points per game, among the lowest in the NCAA.
"For me, this being my first time personally being in the NCAA Tournament, it is extremely special," Maker said. "It is great no matter who you play. Unless you are a one seed, you are getting somebody good. There are no easy games. We have great respect for Southern Illinois and the Missouri Valley."