BUFFALO, N.Y.–On Thursday afternoon, No. 4 seeded West Virginia University will look for redemption from last year’s disappointing loss in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountaineers (26-8) will meet No. 13 Bucknell (26-8) in the first round of the big dance at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
While the Bison may seem like they will be a walk in the park, WVU better come prepared.
“They are really good coached team,” Mountaineers junior guard Daxter Miles Jr. said. “There coach is really good. They got good guard play. We just got to be ready to play.”
Despite what some may believe Bucknell is a good program and they are capable of pulling off the upset.
In 2005, the Bison knocked off third-seeded Kansas 64-63. One year later they took down Arkansas.
But that was then and this is now.
After winning both the Patriot League regular season title and postseason crown, the Bison believe they can take down WVU.
“If I were them (West Virginia) I’d be very scared. We will get it done,” Bucknell senior center Ben Oberfeld, who is out for the season with an injury, said to the Sunbury Daily Item.
The Mountaineers are known for their smothering pressure defense and fast style.
WVU leads the nation in steals per game (10.4) and turnovers forced per game (20.4).
However, the Patriot League Champs are ready for whatever is thrown their way.
“Early on, we played teams that pressured,” point guard Stephen Brown said. “Manhattan, Mt. St. Mary’s pressure a bit. Then (Patriot League) pressured here and there. Just being smart with the ball, looking for outlets and the coaches do a really good job of preparing us. Going into it, I feel like we’re really prepared for what they have for us.”
The Mountaineers are led both offensively and defensively by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Jevon Carter. The junior averages 13.1 points and is seventh in the nation in steals.
Zach Thomas leads the Bison. The 6-foot-7 forward averages 16 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Nana Foulland averages 14.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. Kimbal McKenzi (11.5 points) is the team’s top 3-point shooter, making a team-best 59 3s.
Brown averages of 10.9 points and 4.8 assists per game.
Bucknell scores, on average, 76.1 points per contest and have shot 48.1 percent from the field.
“They’re obviously a good perimeter shooting team so we have to run those guys off the line,” WVU junior forward Elijah Macon said. “We can’t let the post guy get those big easy touches that he can. Just make it really hard for them, speed it up. Their playing a game they never played before.
However, the Bison have turned the ball over an average of just 13.2 times per game this year, which could pose a threat to the Mountaineers.
But Macon thinks WVU’s ability to switch defensive schemes could play in its favor.
“We just got to compete,” he said It comes down to who wants it more. If their comfortable with it, then we’ll switch it up. Just throw different things at them.”
Nevertheless, the Mountaineers have at times struggled to control the pace of play over the latter part of the season.
“We’ve got to get back to being the aggressor,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “We have to get back to dictating how the game’s played. We haven’t done that. We’ve kind of let other people dictate style and pace, and we can’t do that. We have to play the way we play.”
If Bucknell plays smart, the Bison could capitalize on that.
“If we play fast and smart and move the ball fast and guys are cutting and moving fast, then we can get the shot we want, even if West Virginia wants to pressure us and get us out of our comfort zone,” Brown said.
Much like the Mountaineers, Bucknell has had success against teams in this year’s field of 68. The Bison have defeated Vanderbilt and Mount St. Mary’s. WVU pummeled the Mount 108-61.
Bucknell suffered loses to Butler, Wake Forest and Princeton.
The Mountaineers have faced eight different teams who are playing in the NCAA Tournament. WVU is 10-5 against those opponents.
The Bison have never defeated the Mountaineers in eight chances. Their last meeting was in 1977 when Huggins tallied 14 points in WVU’s 112-71 win.