A day after facing a Connecticut squad bent on opportunistic baskets, the Mountaineers must man-up to cutting, screening Georgetown – which both dissects and overpowers foes. WVU aced the first exam, slowing UConn's transition attack and allowing less than a handful of hoops within the running game. Only All-Big East pick A.J. Price was able to remotely exploit West Virginia on the break after head coach Bob Huggins preached getting back to force offensive sets and better dictate pace.
Just one day later, Huggins is prepping for a Hoya team that values possessions, attacks inside and will wait for quality looks. Where Connecticut finished with 13 turnovers against 11 assists, Georgetown had 25 assists on 28 baskets versus a Villanova team known for quick hands and quicker feet. The varying styles were once embraced by Mountaineers, former head coach John Beilein's style giving foes fits. Now, under Huggins, it's back to basics in the ballroom. The coach installed a 2-3 zone in a hotel before the quarterfinals to use against UConn; now he needs to find a way for his – again – undersized team to slow another marquee center while also defending the outside.
It's a catch-22 of sorts. Georgetown knocked down 17 three-pointers versus Villanova to tie a Big East single-game record for treys, now sharing that mark with WVU's 2005 team. So Huggins can't pack in a zone and must allow for solid defensive movement with the Hoya picks and offensive flow. Then there's Roy Hibbert, a 7-2, 278-pounder who was muffled in the first meeting, but can create instant inside issues. The match-up differences make the 7 p.m. contest as much a mental exercise as physical.
"I think our mental approach is pretty good," Huggins said. "We do spend a lot of energy because we guard so hard. We were about as deep on the bench (against UConn) as I wanted to go. … All you ask is that guys come in everyday and they listen and they work."
The key will again be well-executed man defense and concentration for the entire shot clock on both ends. West Virginia's transition superiority forced Connecticut to run through its offense to manufacture shots. There were few easy baskets, and the Huskies began to become frustrated on offense, leading to a lack of effort on defense. Nobody denied Joe Alexander the ball, and the result was a 34-point outburst in the 78-72 win. Georgetown won't cave in low-scoring, tense games that demand cranial capability. It survived an 18-3 Villanova run to begin the second half that turned a 40-29 edge at the break into a 47-43 deficit, rallying for a lopsided win.
"We took a couple of quick shots, they come down and score and we miss a shot and they get a transition basket. It happens," Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. "As always, we said let's just stay focused. Let's stay together, and we were able to slowly, methodically pull away as we do."
Georgetown won the regular season game 58-57 after Jessie Sapp made a three-pointer with 6.2 seconds left before Patrick Ewing, Jr. blocked Da'Sean Butler's lay-up to seal it as time expired. West Virginia forced GU into more turnovers than assists and allowed just four three-pointers. Hibbert, however, had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and did considerable damage on the offensive glass with three rebounds. WVU will need to slow the center while also harnessing a style with a coach who doesn't mind grind-it-out games. There will be little up-and-down, run-and-gun. This will instead be an intricate, advantageous affair likely highlighted by solid shooting and fundamentals.
It's a bit like training as a sprinter, then a marathon runner. The physical differences are obvious. The mental ones more subtle as times, but equal in importance. So hang on. And get ready for a physiological feast.