The West Virginia Mountaineers are making their first NCAA appearance as a member of the Big 12 Conference. The No. 5-seeded Mountaineers draw the 12th-seeded Buffalo Bulls coached by former Duke All-American Bobby Hurley.
The Mountaineers (23-9) finished in a tie for fourth place in the Big 12 regular-season standings and posted six more overall wins in 2014-15 than the year before.
West Virginia expects to welcome back its backcourt duo of Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, both of whom missed the last four games for the Mountaineers. West Virginia has made a living this season pressing and forcing opponents into mishandling the ball, and Staten and Browne have been a big part of that defensive pressure.Mar 3, 2015; Lawrence, KS, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers guard Tarik Phillip (12) shoots the ball as Kansas Jayhawks guard Frank Mason III (0) defends during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The Mountaineers lead the country in total steals and steals per game, averaging almost 11 takeaways per game.
With Staten and Browne out the past four games, West Virginia has averaged four fewer steals per game and opponents have averaged seven fewer turnovers.
Staten and Browne add another 20 points a game back into the Mountaineers’ lineup. Sophomore forward Devin Williams averages 11.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, but with both Staten and Browne sidelined the last few game, Williams has stepped up his game in a big way. In his last two outings, Williams contributed 22 points and 13 rebounds in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State, and followed that with 18 points and 7 rebounds in a Big 12 Tournament loss to Baylor.
West Virginia has gotten much love from the college basketball analysts weighing in on the tournament brackets. A good number of them are siding with underdog Buffalo in this game.
Justin Moss is the big man, literally and figuratively, in Buffalo’s 24th-ranked scoring offense. Moss, a 6-7 junior weighing 245 pounds contributes 18.3 points and over 9 rebounds per game.
The Buffalo rotation goes only seven deep, which could be a problem holding up against the West Virginia press as the game goes on.
The Bulls played two No. 1 seeds earlier in the season. They lost by 18 at Kentucky, although they led the top-ranked Wildcats at the half, and lost by eight points to Wisconsin.
My pick: West Virginia 66, Buffalo 63 – Count me as one of the contrarians who believe seeds mean something, despite the 5-12 history.