It begs the question: Which team can most thoroughly capitalize on what it has seen, especially with just one or two film sessions and an afternoon workout?
"There are bits and pieces you can take," West Virginia head coach John Beilein said of viewing the film of Air Force's backdoor offense and comparing it to how Clemson will defense his own. "It looks the same, but it's Japanese and Chinese. We will be very busy today, make sure (the players) see what happened last night. I compare Clemson to the really good teams we have played. (Assistant) Matt Brown scouted Mississippi State, and he'll turn his attention to clips now. We'll have 20 positive and 10 instructional videos. And Jerry Dunn already has Clemson. We had tapes early this morning."
The flipside is much the same. Mississippi State's length and rebounding ability mirror that of the Tigers, but Clemson (25-10) appears more turnover-prone. Air Force utilized a late press that caused Clemson trouble and nearly led to a comeback win for the Falcons. State, too, seemed to run through offensive sets much more fluidly, though part of that must be attributed to WVU's unique 1-3-1 zone versus Air Force's base zones and man sets.
The coaches have also seen each other's offerings, thrice matching up when Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell mentored Dayton while Beilein was at fellow Atlantic-10 school Richmond. Dayton won the first two – one in the NIT – handily at home before Richmond bounced the Flyers in the third meeting on the Spiders' home floor.
"John is always making adjustments," Purnell said. "He is innovative and much different. He will bring our part of his game that he did not use last night after seeing us against Air Force. I think (the notion WVU has a slow-down style) is deceptive. They don't do it all the time. They will take the first wide-open shot. John has excellent shooters. It's a part of what he recruits.
"We actually have a screen in our offense called the ‘Richmond screen' that came from his screens at Richmond. The number of ways they can attack you, hey, they go to the drive game where they spread and drive. People wait for screens and backdoors, and they don't recognize it until it is too late. They did that against Mississippi State. And they will take early shots and they will run. Don't be deceived that they run the shot clock down every time."
Or hardly ever, as was the case midway through the semifinals. Mississippi State triggered a running style that favored the Bulldogs, and West Virginia (26-9) fell behind by double digits. It's something Clemson, with its equally solid transition game and athleticism, will attempt to duplicate, especially because the Tigers have less than 24 hours of preparation, often a nightmare scenario in trying to stop WVU's offense. So the idea, then, becomes to outscore the Mountaineers rather than relying on stopping them.
Clemson was held to 30 first-half points (it limited Air Force to 22), much of that late, then hit for 38 in the second half. The Falcons scored 45, however, but managed to keep pace by a the surprise press late in the game that caused four turnovers. It also tallied two steals, drilling a 3-pointer on the last one with one second remaining to pull within the final score of 68-67.
"They are definitely different," Purnell said of WVU and Air Force. "There are some similarities, back door cutting, move the ball, liking the high post. But it's very different. They do a lot more things with it, and are looking for different things. Really, either team could have won, and neither team deserved to lose in either (semifinal) game."
Clemson and West Virginia have met three times, with the Mountaineers holding a 2-1 edge. The last meeting was also in the NIT, a 96-79 second-round NIT win in Morgantown. It will be the first series game outside of the University City.
"This is the one profession where we love doing more work," Beilein said. "Air Force and Mississippi State not up at 7 a.m., the coach's are not working. But they would rather be. Only two (postseason) teams will end the season with a win, and we'd like to be one of them. But if the breaks go the other way and Clemson is the victor, (the player) will know they did everything possible to win."
West Virginia will visit Ground Zero, the site where the World Trade Centers Towers stood before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, between preparation sessions.
"It's a realization of how our world has changed and why (security) is so important in airports," Beilein said. "Players will understand our soldiers are going through. Sometimes we need to pay attention and get away from ESPN and watch the news to see what so many people there age are doing. With the Air Force, there is a strong possibility that those players could be in Iraq or Afghanistan. So we tell them, don't worry so much if you have enough cheese on your pizza, or is this all the meal money we get."
Beilein said the timing was perfect, because when the Mountaineers play St. John's, or are in the Big East Tournament, getting back to classes is an important factor. Now the team has time to visit the area.
"I'm a history major, so I am excited to go," Alex Ruoff said. "It's a big part of this country." Said Frank Young: "It's a part of U.S. history. It's not a good part, but it affects everybody in this country. Not everyday can you see a landmark like that."