Match-up Swap

With all the talk about Southern Illinois' defense, not much attention has been paid to West Virginia's unique zone match-up versus a team that has had more turnovers than Larry Coker's coaching staff.

The 11th-seeded Salukis (22-10), the Missouri Valley Conference champion, have managed just 392 assists to 458 turnovers, a staggering number for a team considered as solid defensively as SIU, which ranks fourth in the NCAA in points allowed per game at 52.3 and has forced 563 turnovers.

"You'd think, with how good their defense is, that they would be scoring more," Jo Herber said. "But they slow it down offensively, too. They don't get those run outs, or don't take them."

And even when the Salukis, who average just 60.9 points per game, manage to get into their offensive sets, they will not have played a team that utilizes the 1-3-1 zone like six seed West Virginia (20-10). The Mountaineers' uniqueness, well-documented offensively, is as prevalent on defensive and is a concern for Southern Illinois, which has yet to play a power conference team this year.

"Well see how the 1-3-1 works," Herber said. "I don't think they have seen it a lot, or played against anybody who uses it. It causes problems for teams that have not seen it before."

And sometimes even for teams that have. No. 22 West Virginia has forced 478 turnovers, and committed just 254 compared to 531 assists. Foes have scored an average of 64 points per game to WVU's 71.1.

"Not a lot of people see what we do, and that helps," Patrick Beilein said. "We do it a bit differently in some aspects, too, and that should help us."

WVU head coach John Beilein has repeatedly said he would prefer to play a team which is unfamiliar with West Virginia. Some Big East teams that employ a similar style or have similar players, like Pitt and Cincinnati, have figured out how to throw the ball over the Mountaineers' 1-3-1 defense or penetrate into it for easy shots. That's something WVU must eliminate on Friday.

But even with multiple game tapes of Connecticut throwing the ball over West Virginia, or Cincy's dunk-fest at the WVU Coliseum, Southern Illinois will be hard-pressed to duplicate those efforts because of personnel and lack of actual playing time against he zone. The Mountaineers will likely hold their pattern of playing the zone off a make and man off a miss.

WVU also must find its legs and get into the passing lanes. Deflections that milk additional time off the shot clock or quick-handed steals leading to easy points will help ease the pressure of the expected low-scoring, grind-it-out affair. The recovery of Mike Gansey – WVU's leader in steals with 58 – from stomach cramps should help, as will additional rest. West Virginia will have played just one game in 13 days – and two in 18 – when it tips off on St. Patrick's Day at 2:45 p.m.

"We have had some time off, had some nice, hard practices and had fun," Kevin Pittsnogle said. "I think everything is starting to come back together. We're real anxious. We have been sitting around for a week. I'd much rather play on Thursday. We're ready.

"We think Mike will be all right. When you have one of your best players not playing, it is tough. I don't think two or three guys can replace that. He is the definition of a team player in my mind. I think he is one of the best to have on our team. It's not just scoring and rebounding, but everything he does as a leader."


* WVU's players took a bowling break after losing to Pitt in the Big East Tournament. They relaxed together, and got away from basketball and postseason preparation. Kevin Pittsnogle was the high scorer, hitting the upper 190s and lower 200s in his games.

* The Mountaineers called The Palace in Auburn Hills to inquire as to whether the NBA 3-point line would be taken off the floor for the games. The Palace is the home of the Detroit Pistons. Only the collegiate 3-point line will be left on the floor, in addition to the regular lines.

"It might have affected us earlier in our careers," Patrick Beilein said. "We have played in every kind of arena. We called and checked on it, and it is not going to be down, so that's good.

Not that it would bother Beilein.

"No, but maybe some of the other guys that shoot threes," he said.

* The last time the Salukis were an 11-seed, in 2002, they advanced to the Sweet 16, but had considerable more experience than this season's seniorless starters. Much is made about juniors becoming seniors and freshmen not really being rookies anymore. And after 30 games, it's true. But WVU, for example, might have been better last season with less experience because it had Tyrone Sally and D'or Fischer for better depth.

"We have not won games at the end of the year right now. People are writing us off," Gansey said. "We are going into this tournament as an underdog, like we always do."

Said Patrick Beilein: "We have been in nearly every situation. Having five seniors and knowing what we did last year gives us a lot of confidence. We started the Creighton game down 10 last year. God forbid something like that happens this Friday, but we will be able to handle it. We'll be ready to go."

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