Although West Virginia relies heavily on freshmen – playing three in its eight-man rotation – the Mountaineers also have enough veterans to realize the importance and magnitude of what's at stake when the ball is tipped off on Friday afternoon in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
To get to the NCAA Tournament is certainly an achievement and a privilege, something only 65 teams can say they did in a given season. For WVU, however, simply getting there is not enough. After all, this will be the fourth trip to the Big Dance in five seasons, and seventh straight trip to the postseason overall when one factors in NIT bids from 2004 and 2007.
In West Virginia's past four trips to the NCAA Tournament, it has advanced at least to the Sweet 16. Thus, while getting to the big event is nice, it certainly isn't the main goal in Morgantown, at least not anymore.
"There's nothing better (than advancing in the tournament)," admitted sophomore forward Cam Thoroughman, who played a pivotal role in WVU's upset of Duke in last season's second round. "Last year was a great experience for us, and anything less than that this year will be considered – maybe not a failure – but a disappointment. We know we can get there and we know what it takes to get there. It's just a matter of doing it."
Of course getting to the tournament's second weekend is much easier said than done. By Sunday night, three-quarters of the field will be eliminated. It goes without saying that West Virginia hopes to be in that final fourth.
Getting there begins with Friday's tilt with 11th-seeded Dayton. The Flyers are by no means a pushover, but do look to be a favorable matchup for the Mountaineers. Over the past couple of days, players and coaches have watched plenty of film on their upcoming opponent. What they've seen, first and foremost, is a team that plays outstanding defense and rebounds the ball quite well, particularly on the offensive glass. Sound familiar?
"There is only one us, but with how hard they work on the offensive glass and how aggressive they are, they remind me a little bit of us," said junior forward Da'Sean Butler. "A majority of the players on their team are small, but they have a couple of guys that are around 6-9. They just outwork people pretty much. When somebody shoots the ball, they pretty much sprint to the glass while the person who shot the ball is getting back."
The Mountaineers certainly aren't an intimidating size matchup for most teams, at least not in terms of height or girth. The main reason WVU has been successful this season is because it consistently rebounds and defends, which is enough to at least keep a team in any game if not win it outright.
Dayton's recipe for success is similar.
"They've played a lot of their games in the 50s and 60s" Butler noted. "They are a very defensive team, in a way like us as far as trying to rebound the ball when they miss shots and put it back. That's a big part of their offensive (arsenal) is getting rebounds and stickbacks."
In order to gain the upper hand on Friday afternoon in Minneapolis, West Virginia cannot afford another lackadaisical effort on the boards such as what happened in the Big East Tournament semi-final loss to Syracuse. Although the Flyers aren't as physically imposing as the Orange, one could argue they have a little more grit.
In essence, it comes down to the simplest rebounding fundamental of finding the man, and then the ball.
"Something that we pride ourselves on is rebounding, so I think that it is very important that we keep them from getting second-chance points," said Thoroughman We've watched some film on them and they all fly to the glass. I mean, they really fly to the offensive boards. I think it is going to be a key for us to stop that."
Do so and a longer stay in the Twin Cities becomes a much more likely scenario.