March 11, 2012
Mountaineers seeded 10th in East Region
AP Photo
Kevin Jones and the Mountaineers begin their trip through the NCAA tournament Thursday against No. 7 seed Gonzaga in Pittsburgh, Pa.

MORGANTOWN - Never have Kevin Jones and West Virginia's basketball team been happier to be going to Pittsburgh.

"Usually it's a place you have to drag us to go and play,'' Jones said Sunday night. "But this is nice.''

Indeed, not only did the Mountaineers find themselves safely tucked into the NCAA tournament bracket when it was announced Sunday, they were given the shortest trip possible to play their opening game.

A No. 10 seed, West Virginia (19-13) will face No. 7 seed Gonzaga (25-6) at 7:20 p.m. Thursday at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The winner is in a position to face No. 2 seed Ohio State in the second round.

For a team that struggled down the stretch just to maintain its position in the field, the bracket couldn't have been much kinder in terms of location. Gonzaga will travel through three time zones to face a lower-seeded team that is 75 minutes down the road.

"It's going to be a home game for them,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "That'll be the hardest thing.''

The only down side for West Virginia might be one of distractions, which coach Bob Huggins was quick to quip about after the field was announced.

"What makes you think I'm happy?'' Huggins said. "You're not going to get the ticket requests I am.''

Well, if that's the worst of Huggins' problems, he'll take it.

It's not, of course. Gonzaga is a tournament-tested team that is making its 14th consecutive NCAA appearance and is ranked higher than the Mountaineers in virtually every litmus test. The Bulldogs are ranked in both major polls (No. 24 by the Associated Press, No. 25 by the coaches), are No. 24 in the RPI (WVU is No. 56) and won eight of their last 11 games while the Mountaineers were losing eight of their final 12.

Still, this is a new season and West Virginia will treat it as such.

"I think we can beat anybody on any night,'' West Virginia guard Truck Bryant said. "Then again, we can lose to anybody on any night. We just have to play and go all out.''

To a man, West Virginia's players said that when they sat down to watch the selection show Sunday evening, they were confident they would be in the field. But they also seemed rather surprised that they would earn a spot in a tournament pod so close to home.

The Mountaineers have played at the Consol Energy Center just once, beating Duquesne there last season.

"I knew we'd be in. I just wanted to see who and where we'd play,'' said Bryant, who along with Jones will be making a fourth straight appearance in the tournament (it is the fifth straight for the Mountaineers). "That's a great location. It's right down the block.''

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