There's no doubt that the MEAC champions aren't aware of West Virginia's reputation as a physical team. Slender forward DeWayne Jackson (6-8, 210 lbs.) noted WVU's rugged style of play as the thing that stood out to him the most. However, his tone and demeanor, combined with his words, do more than suggest that he and his teammates plan to meet that challenge head on.
"They are a physical team, but we have to come out and match their physical play," said Jackson, who averaged 10.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. "We just have to bring energy and play."
Teammate Troy Smith agreed, emphasizing several times that Morgan State "has to do what we do" and not get caught up in West Virginia's style of play.
Of course, that's easier said than done. The Bears are indeed a physical team in their league, and are viewed as such by many of their opponents. Morgan State racked up 760 fouls this year and had 21 players foul out (including a team high nine by Jackson), and aren't afraid to mix it up in the lane or on the perimeter. It is also tough on the boards, holding a +4 advantage in rebounding margin this year. There's no question that the Bears will body up and play tough, but the question remains – can they do it against the bigger bodies West Virginia possesses?
That factor is on the mind of Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman, but he's not concerned about whether or not his team can do so. It's clear that he thinks it can. What Bozeman is concerned about is whether or not West Virginia's reputation as a physical team might earn it something of a pass in the way the game is called.
"The nation knows that West Virginia is a physical team, but the nation doesn't know that Morgan State is a physical team," Bozeman explained. "Will the game be called that way where they see that both teams are physical and allow us to play? Or will they just allow West Virginia to play that way?"
If it seems that Bozeman is already lobbying for an advantage for his underdog Bears, well, he probably is. But you can't blame a coach for that. After getting tossed around by Oklahoma a year ago in the NCAA first round, Bozeman wants his team to come out aggressively and not be awed just by their presence in the tournament.
"The physical question should tell the tale of this game," Bozeman concluded. "In our conference we're treated [and viewed] like West Virginia. Other teams know we are physical."
"Sophomore Ameer Ali may not float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, but this young man can surely rumble!"
Ali's suspension is for throwing Oklahoma's Blake Griffin to the floor with a hip toss in last year's NCAA tournament.