WVU faces bulldog of an opener at Gonzaga

For most college basketball teams, opening in the Great Northwest against Gonzaga on its home court is like going hunting for grizzly bear with a song, a dandelion, and a pea shooter.

The self-named Zags don’t often lose in Spokane.

And West Virginia has some recent experience against coach Mark Few and his ways. Gonzaga trounced the Kevin Jones/Truck Bryant-led Mountaineers, 77-54, in last season’s NCAA tournament game played in Pittsburgh.

Few’s Bulldogs were a robust 26-7 overall last season. After stoning WVU, they were eliminated by Ohio State in the next NCAA round.

Gonzaga went 15-1 at home in 2012. The only loss was to Michigan State.

Few is the cornerstone of Gonzaga basketball. One of the brightest minds in the college game, his dossier shows 12 straight West Coast Conference regular-season championships. There have been 14 straight trips to the NCAA tournament. And Few has been the head coach for only 14 seasons after spending 10 years at the school as an assistant.

Gonzaga does not have the same kind of talent oozing from its pores like Kentucky, Indiana, Louisville, or Kansas.

Instead, it has reliable types whose basketball IQ is among the highest in the country. None of its players ever goes to the NBA and solidifies a franchise with an all-pro career. Some of Few’s players do have pro careers, but none do wonderous things.

The main reason Gonzaga wins is because of Few.

Kevin Pangos (13.6) and Elias Harris (13.1) were Gonzaga’s leading scorers last season. They are both on hand to greet WVU.

Other returnees from the 26-7 team are Gary Bell (10.4), Sam Dower (8.3), Guy Landry Edi (5.5), Dave Stockton (3.7), and Mike Hart (1.8).

Gone are tattooed center Robert Sacre and Marquise Carter.

New players to Few’s possible player rotation are guard Gerard Coleman, seven-footer Kelly Olynyk, and seven-footer Przernek Karnowski.

West Virginia presents a host of new faces and first-time starters.

Point guard Juwan Staten has been injured but is reportedly ready after transferring from Dayton. Aaric Murray is a 6-foot-10 transfer from LaSalle. Matt Humphrey graduated from Boston College and has one year of eligibility.

Sophomore Volodymyr Gerun has to sit out the first six games before he can play on Dec. 8 against Virginia Tech.

The holdovers are quixotic Deniz Kilicli, the 6-foot-9 senior; sophomore point guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne; sophomore forwards Aaron Brown and Keaton Miles; as well as inside players Dominique Rutledge and Kevin Noreen.

The two freshmen are perimeter players Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, both about 6-foot-2 whose best attributes are firing in 20-footers in transition (teams don’t score much in transition against Gonzaga).

This game was scheduled as part of college basketball’s season-opening 24 hours of non-stop games.

It was another chance to play on television before a national audience . . . and coach Bob Huggins took it.

Huggins will probably throw at least 10 players at the Zags in the first half. He will be searching for players whose mental toughness can withstand the uncertainty and noise in the 6,000-seat gym in Spokane.

Playing at Gonzaga is too much like playing in Lawrence, Kansas against the Jayhawks — it’s hard to find eight players who can maintain their composure. And it is extremely difficult to win.

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