West Virginia must rely on defense to turn over the offense against Buffalo
West Virginia's Bob Huggins has been there, done that -- so facing upstart Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA tournament isn't something he -- or the Mountaineers -- are shying away from on Friday. So what if WVU has lost three of its past four games?
But could the No. 12 seed Bulls, winners of eight consecutive games, pull off the upset?
Buffalo holds the edge in scoring (75.0 to 73.9), field-goal percentage (.435 to .412), 3-point percentage (.340 to .318) and free-throw percentage (.722 to .660).
|(12) Buffalo vs. (5) West Virginia|
|2:10 p.m. ET Friday | TNT|
The Bulls' offense feeds off guard Lamonte Bearden, a member of the MAC All-Freshman Team, who has dished out 51 more assists (138) than any other MAC freshman this season. Bearden has scored in double digits in three consecutive games for the first time of his collegiate career, and four of the Bulls’ past five contests overall. Including a career-high 23 points against Canisius on Nov. 29, Bearden has tallied 10 or more points 10 times this year, and Buffalo is 8-2 in those games.
Forward Justin Moss, the MAC Player of the Year, is averaging 17.7 points per game. Guard Shannon Evans is 63 of 168 (.375) from behind the arc, while guard Jarryn Skeete is 61 of 154 (.396).
To combat the upset-minded Bulls, West Virginia will have to rely on its defense, which averages a plus-6.6 turnover margin, second-best in the nation.
Mountaineers guard Jevon Carter leads all Big 12 freshmen in 3-pointers, assists and steals. He ranks third in the Big 12 overall with 1.8 steals per game, the highest by a West Virginia player since Alex Ruoff in 2006-07 (2.0). His 10 games with at least three steals are tied for the most in the conference.
Guards Tarik Phillip and Jaysean Paige have 10 games with multiple steals off the bench, tied for third most in the Big 12.
When WVU does force a turnover, the offense has capable weapons to take advantage of the opponent's miscue.
Paige leads West Virginia in 3-point shooting (38.6 percent), and guard Juwan Staten tops WVU with a 14.5 scoring average, fifth-highest in the Big 12. He also is the only player in the conference to average at least 14 points, four assists and one steal per game this season.