West Virginia-Gonzaga Preview
Having found a capable addition to its frontcourt, Gonzaga appears poised to tackle a challenging slate of non-conference games.
The first of those for the No. 19 Bulldogs takes place Monday night when West Virginia visits Spokane for the opening game of the Old Spice Classic.
Gonzaga entered this season with four returning starters but needed to replace center Robert Sacre, who was taken by the Los Angeles Lakers with the final pick in this year's NBA draft.
While he wasn't a starter for Friday's season opener, 7-foot-1 freshman Przemek Karnowski made a strong case to join the lineup with a 22-point performance on 10-of-16 shooting in a 103-65 rout of Southern Utah.
"He's got good feet. He's getting there," coach Mark Few told the school's website. "It's going to be a week-by-week process."
The Bulldogs (1-0) might need Karnowski's help again when they face West Virginia, a team they defeated 77-54 in their 2012 NCAA tournament opener. Gonzaga will also face No. 19 Baylor, Clemson, Washington State, Illinois, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Butler in non-conference play.
"(West Virginia is) not the same team we faced seven or eight months ago," Few said. "We're going to have to toughen up. I'm sure they're going to come in raring to go. We're going to have to play very good on Monday. It's going to be a tough one."
West Virginia is seeking to fill a void of its own after saying goodbye to Kevin Jones, the Big East's leading scorer and rebounder. Beginning with their season opener, the Mountaineers (19-14) will try to replace that production with help from three transfers - Aaric Murray (La Salle), Juwan Staten (Dayton) and Matt Humphrey (Boston College).
"(Transfers) can work," coach Bob Huggins told the school's website. "Honestly, it's probably a better situation because they get to practice a whole year before they get to play. They're so much more ready to play than somebody you go out and recruit and has to learn everything."
Those three will join returning starters Jabarie Hinds, Keaton Miles and Deniz Kilicli, the last of whom averaged 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 2011-12.
Kilicli scored 10 points against Gonzaga on March 15 and Gary Browne had a team-best 15 off the bench, but the Mountaineers were limited to 32.7 percent shooting. The Bulldogs shot 56.0 percent and Gary Bell Jr., Kevin Pangos and Elias Harris scored in double figures in the only meeting between the two schools.
Harris and Pangos were among six players who scored 10 or more in Friday's game.
"We're going to go out there and play like crazy and at least we'll know what we have to fix and how good we are ... or how bad we are," Huggins said. "They're very good ... and they've got four out of five starters back."
West Virginia, which is seeking a sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance, is 20-33 against Top 25 teams during Huggins' tenure but has lost eight of the past nine of those matchups, including five in a row.