Do you know the way to San Jose?
Dionne Warwick knew the way when she released that hit single in 1968.
Now it’s West Virginia’s travel-problem when the Mountaineers see top-rated Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen’s San Jose-based round of the NCAA tournament.
Once-beaten Gonzaga is the tournament’s overall No.1-seed. However, the Bulldogs have never reached the Final Four in any of Coach Mark Few’s many seasons in Spokane.
In its last game, Gonzaga barely escaped the upset-minded comeback made by No. 8-seed Northwestern.
West Virginia has some history against the Bulldogs. Not too many seasons back the Mountaineers had an early-season game against Few’s crew that ended with a whimper and not a sky full of rockets with Gonzaga winning by about 30 points.
This game has polar opposites when looking at their contrasting styles.
On the one hand, West Virginia uses its fullcourt pressure and rotation of players in trying to control a frenetic tempo and wear away the stamina and resolve of its opponents.
Gonzaga is always timber-tall and much prefers a more pedestrian pace that can use its inside scoring in halfcourt basketball to win its games.
Northwestern was not a bit intimidated by Gonzaga’s seed or its tree-top players.
West Virginia won’t be, either, preferring its chip-on-the-shoulder mantra and wearying style to outlast the Bulldogs.
Nigel Williams-Goss is the director of Gonzaga’s floor game. The point guard leads the Bulldogs in scoring, and his ball handling, demeanor and emotional stability are just as vital to Gonzaga’s chances.
People look at 7-foot-1 Prezemak Karnowski as Gonzaga’s other presence. However, it’s 7-foot freshman Zach Collins who is more athletic and well-rounded – even though he doesn’t start.
Jonathan Williams (6-foot-9), Jordan Mathews (6-foot-4) and Josh Perkins (6-foot-3) are three starters who provide Few with consistency when the games are played at the pace Gonzaga much prefers.
Silas Melson and 6-foot-10 freshman Killian Tillie are the other two reserves that usually serve Few well.
It’s obvious West Virginia doesn’t want a mundane halfcourt game. But if forced to cool the tempo the Mountaineers could employ a 1-3-1 zone to see how the Bulldogs shoot from the perimeter.
The constant chatter about it never making it to a Final Four has to add pressure to Gonzaga’s preparation.
If point guard Jevon Carter gets scoring and defensive help from at least four other teammates then the harassing Mountaineers should be able to score well enough themselves.
Elijah Macon must contribute and must stay out of foul trouble. Tarik Phillip is always a wild card in West Virginia’s deck of playing cards. Should he score 12 or more points then Gonzaga will have to rebound well, limit its turnovers, and help Williams-Goss with its scoring.
Of all things, the Mountaineers made all 11 of their first-half free throws in beating Notre Dame. And they kept point guard Matt Farrell under control.
Esa Ahmad, Daxter Miles and Nathan Adrian simply have to be contributing in some way. And have to stay away from foul trouble.
Anything coming from Lamont West, Sagaba Konate, Brandon Watkins or those who believe they are to shoot long-range tries when on the court would be an unexpected pleasure to see.
Gonzaga has much more room for error than does West Virginia.
But an alarming tempo, any foul trouble at all for the Bulldogs or a sub-par game from Williams-Goss could make Few and company return earlier than they want to Spokane.