Inside Inclinations

Southern Illinois' strength might also be its weakness.

The Salukis' (22-10) pressure man defense, which has held foes to just 52.3 points per game – the fourth lowest total in the NCAA Division I, operates off the ideal that it can force poor decisions quickly, and gain turnovers off such mistakes. No player is taller than 6-7, allowing SIU to be quick all over the floor. That potential overplay, however, might help a patient, veteran WVU (20-10) team.

"It depends upon how they play the passing lanes," Kevin Pittsnogle said. "If they are up tight, we can do that. If they back off of us, that might not be there, but the shots will."

The old adage thus emerges: Defenses can't stop everything. Southern Illinois' athleticism means its inside ability is stymied a bit, and that Pittsnogle, at 6-11, might have more chances inside. Hitting those, and having the ability to force help onto the ball when Pittsnogle gets it in the post, will be key to opening 3-pointers or shorter outside jumpers.

"You gotta post up hard down there," Pittsnogle said. "Get that man on your back, behind you, and keep him there. You have to work. I am going to try to command the post and let my teammates shoot more. It should be a little better because they are undersized inside."

The baby hook could come into play here, or just a straight turnaround jumper. SIU frontliners Randal Falker (6-7, 230) and Matt Shaw (6-7, 225) give up four inches and are more like Jo Herber-type players with solid, balanced numbers. Falker averages nine points and eight rebounds per game, and will likely be the player defending Pittsnogle, and whom Pittsnogle will match should WVU be forced into a man – unlikely because of SIU's style. Shaw is more of an outside threat and is the best outside shooter at 37.7 percent from 3-point range.

Two players off the bench, Tony Boyle (6-8, 230) and Jamaal Foster (6-10, 210) have more height, but less experience. The freshman-sophomore tandem combines for just 3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

"That lack of height does help a bit because it might be easier to finish when you go to the rim," Herber said. "It might help you get shots off. But outside of that, it really is how they play us more than anything. The backdoor could be there. And Kevin being physical inside will be important. But it is most important to shoot well."

Indeed, West Virginia, second in the NCAA in 3-pointers per game, will need to match its season-average of 10.1 for a win. It does not want to get into a game in the mid-50s. SIU defends the perimeter well, at least statistically, allowing just 4.4 3-pointers per game. It also ranks 39th in field goal percentage defense and steals per game, but has not played a power conference team this season, making any sort of points prediction difficult.

The game is expected to be among the lowest scoring of the first round, meaning, with points at a premium, the inside putbacks from Herber and Mike Gansey should also be important. Gansey was in on two out of every three of WVU's practice sets on Tuesday, and says that he should be fine to play.

"I am feeling better, and I'm getting in there as much as I can," Gansey said. "I am kind of dumb like that in that I try to go too much. Coach keeps asking me how I am and telling me to be smart."

If Gansey can regain his early-season form, his ability to equal most players in terms of athletic ability and his matchup with SIU's man could mean a big game from the senior. Gansey can create space inside and finish better than any other WVU player. He also lends creativity and self-creation of shots via separation to the Mountaineer offense, something that was missing badly when he was out for much of the game with stomach cramps against Pitt and its pressure man defense.

"We have to go out and have fun, but play hard," Gansey said. "It could be the last game for us seniors. I think we learned from our last games, especially against Pitt, that we have been forcing shots and taking too many threes. We really need to drive to the hoop and do other things that just jacking threes all the time."

Tip-time is 2:45 p.m. from The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich. WVU's game follows the other Atlanta Region first-round matchup of third-seeded Iowa and 14-seed Northwestern State.

"This team is good," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "I mean, five consecutive NCAA trips? Those are UConn type numbers. I know Syracuse has not been there five years, because five years ago (at Richmond) I was playing them in the NIT."


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