Gonzaga knows this drill quite well: Head east as a No. 7 seed to play a 10th-seeded team playing just a short trip from its home campus.The Bulldogs just hope for a better result than four years ago.
Gonzaga (25-6) was given a No. 7 seed in the East Region on Sunday when the NCAA tournament field was announced. But it certainly isn't an easy road the Bulldogs face playing No. 10 seed West Virginia on Thursday in Pittsburgh, just 75 miles from the Mountaineers' campus.
"That's always hard to swallow. But there's so much criteria that goes into these things ... you start worrying about the 7 and 10 seeds, you'd never get it done," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "But it's tough. That's twice we've been in this situation."
Gonzaga (25-6) is back in the NCAA tournament for the 14th straight season, but this time not as the regular-season or tournament champions of the West Coast Conference. That honor went to Saint Mary's, which was also given a No. 7 seed but not with the same challenge that awaits the Bulldogs.
Yet it's one that Gonzaga knows well. Back in 2008, the Bulldogs were also a No. 7 seed and were sent to Raleigh, N.C., to face 10th-seeded Davidson about three hours from the Wildcats' campus. But that matchup had as much to do with Davidson star Stephen Curry, who scored 40 points in an 82-76 upset of the Bulldogs, the first step in Davidson's run to the regional finals that year.
While it's an entirely different cast and far different opponent, it's at least a situation the Bulldogs are now familiar with.
"We're going to play somebody really tough we knew that and the location is tough, but that kind of comes with the territory," Few said.
What Gonzaga does know is that it will be a physical matchup against the Mountaineers, who finished eighth in the Big East during the regular season and were knocked out of the Big East tournament in their first game by Connecticut.
West Virginia has been struggling, having closed the season dropping eight of 12. They also feature Big East player of the year Kevin Jones, who became the third player in conference history to lead the league in scoring and rebounding.
"You know they're a Big East team and when it comes to Big East teams they're going to be very physical with the mentality they're going to kick your teeth in," Gonzaga's Elias Harris said. "We need to come out very physical. That's a key for us winning the game."
It's the second consecutive year the Bulldogs will open the tournament with a Big East foe, after taking out St. John's in the first round last year before falling to Brigham Young. The Bulldogs also routed Notre Dame at home in November, winning by 20. But the challenge of playing West Virginia in the Mountaineers' backyard is mostly similar to when the Bulldogs went to Xavier and won 72-65 in early January, according to freshman Kevin Pangos.
"It'll be just like a lot of away games we've played. ... It'll be more about what we bring," Pangos said.