#4 West Virginia vs #13 Bucknell
2:45 ET, CBS
Player to Watch: (stats)
As always Bob Huggins has assembled a mean defense that is the best in the country at getting steals with just over 10 a game. That defense along with Junior Jevon Carter, who has improved in every statistical category since last year, and youngster Esa Ahmad who is second on the team in scoring and shooting just under 50 percent from the field, will be a hard team to beat.
This team has to force turnovers to win. Although averaging just over 10 steals per game this year, they have only hit that mark once in their 8 losses this year, and it came against #2 Kansas. Reaching their season average and pressuring the ball is almost a guaranteed win for this group. The Mountaineers lead the nation in opposing turnover rate and will need to utilize that to overpower a smaller, less athletic group from Bucknell that has most likely never seen a full court press like this one.
Player to Watch: (stats)
The Bison are led by two Junior bigmen in Zach Thomas and Nana Foulland. This frontcourt averages 31 points and 15 rebounds a game which makes them a scary duo no matter what conference they play in. They are slightly undersized, but the Mountaineers don’t have any giants on their team which could be an interesting matchup in this game.
Take care of the ball. Easier said than done against the one of the best defenses in the country but this team averages 13 turnovers every game which is certainly not among the best in the nation. The Bison backcourt has been much better at protecting the ball than their bigs, but they will be harassed before they reach half court all night and will need to stay calm and get into their offense if they want a chance to win. Secondly, they will need big nights from their aforementioned leading scorers. Not only in points and rebounds, but assist to turnover ratio is the most important for these two as they average a combined 5 turnovers a game.
Match-Up to Watch
The Bison bigmen vs. West Virginia’s defense. The Mountaineers will no doubt trap their opponents best players and if that frontcourt can produce more assists than turnovers they might have a chance.
Turnover margin. As mentioned previously, West Virginia is almost an automatic lock if they get at least 10 steals. Often in games where they failed to reach this mark they coughed the ball up too much and since Bucknell averages a solid seven steals a game themselves, the Mountaineers will need to play to their strength to win this game.
Prediction: West Virginia (86), Bucknell (72)
Bucknell has the ability to stay in this game for a decent amount of time if they can find a way to break the Mountaineers press. But unless they play a near perfect game they can’t avoid the turnovers forever against a team like this. West Virginia will power through in the second half and finish with an easy first round victory.