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West Virginia’s high-pressure D will be tough test for Gonzaga

UPDATED: Sat., March 18, 2017, 11:32 p.m.

Iowa State guard Nazareth Mitrou-Long (15) is defended by West Virginia guards Tarik Phillip (12) and Jevon Carter (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Friday, March 3, 2017, in Morgantown, W.Va. (Ray Thompson / Associated Press)
Iowa State guard Nazareth Mitrou-Long (15) is defended by West Virginia guards Tarik Phillip (12) and Jevon Carter (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Friday, March 3, 2017, in Morgantown, W.Va. (Ray Thompson / Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY – Notre Dame entered Saturday’s second-round NCAA Tournament game averaging a little over nine turnovers per game, one of the best marks in the country. They’d given the ball up that many times by halftime of their eventual 83-71 loss to West Virginia.

That ‘Press Virginia’ defense will present a challenge unlike anything No. 1 seed Gonzaga has seen this year when the teams face off in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. WVU only puts athletes on the floor – there is no stoic big man – and they will press and trap teams the entire length of the court.

In fact, the Mountaineers caused havoc even before the ball was inbounded on Saturday, denying the Notre Dame guards the initial pass frequently after made baskets and even forcing a five-second call.

Nobody forces more turnovers than West Virginia (20.3 per game) and they force opponents to turn the ball over on 28-percent of all possessions. No other team in in Division I does it more than 26 percent of the time.

Bulldogs point guard Nigel Williams-Goss will obviously be key against the Mountaineers press, and his ability to run the fast break or play at a steady pace as needed should give GU fans confidence. But all the guards will need to play with precision against WVU’s pressure, and the big men need to be ready to come up and help as well.

Because the Mountaineers use the entire length of the court, coach Bob Huggins employs a deep rotation with 10 players averaging at least 11 minutes played per game. Leading scorer Jevon Carter (13 points per game) is the only Mountaineer to play at least 30 minutes per game (31.7).

WVU’s gritty style has been able to stifle some of the best teams in the country, and the Mountaineers were only an overtime loss at Kansas away from sweeping the No. 1 seed Jayhawks during the regular season.

The Bulldogs should still be favored against the Mountaineers. But to advance to the Elite Eight GU will need to control the WVU chaos.

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