Bucknell-West Virginia Preview

The last time West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament run began in Buffalo, N.Y., it finished at the Final Four.

The Mountaineers will try to retrace their steps from 2010 this year. Seeded fourth in the West Region, West Virginia will meet No. 13 seed Bucknell in a first-round game Thursday at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center.

“I like Buffalo,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “It was good to us last time.”

West Virginia (26-8) is coming off an 80-74 loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship game. Earning the nickname “Press Virginia” for its frenetic, full-court defense, the Mountaineers lead the nation in steals (10.4 per game) and forced turnovers (20.4), and their defense ranks among the top five in the KenPom efficiency ratings.

Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter leads a balanced Mountaineers attack at 13.1 points per game. Seven other players average at least 5.6 points.

In recent weeks, however, West Virginia has not been able to control the pace of play as well it had earlier in the season.

“We’ve got to get back to being the aggressor,” 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 West Virginia can beat Bucknell, a potential matchup with former Big East rival fifth-seeded Notre Dame looms in the second round. The Fighting Irish are the nation’s best at limiting turnovers.

But the Mountaineers aren’t looking ahead in the bracket after getting upset in the first round as a No. 3 seed last year by Stephen F. Austin.

“We’ve got to come in and stay focused,” senior forward Nathan Adrian said. “We can’t look past our opponent, which honestly we did a little bit last year.”

Patriot League champion Bucknell (26-8) is playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. The Bison went 15-3 in winning a second-straight regular season title and earned an automatic bid with three home wins in the Patriot League tournament. They have won six straight and 14 of their last 16.

This will be Bucknell’s seventh NCAA Tournament appearance and first for coach Nathan Davis, who was an assistant under Pat Flannery when Bucknell won NCAA Tournament games against Kansas in 2005 and Arkansas in 2006.

“If I were them (West Virginia) I’d be very scared. We will get it done,” said senior center Ben Oberfeld, who is out for the season with an injury, according to the Sunbury Daily Item.

Patriot League Player of the Year Nana Foulland is averaging 14.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. The 6-foot-9 center also was the Defensive Player of the Year. Tournament MVP Zach Thomas is averaging 16 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

“We’re going to try to get it up the floor and get good shots,” Davis told the Sunbury Daily Item. “They’re going to turn you over some, but we’re going to have to limit live ball turnovers so we can at least set up our defense. We’ve certainly seen pressure before from people. I don’t know that it’s been as long and athletic.”

The Bison went 2-3 vs. NCAA Tournament teams this season, defeating Vanderbilt and Mount St. Mary’s, and losing to Butler, Wake Forest and Princeton.

Bucknell is 0-8 all-time against West Virginia. The two teams have not met since 1977, when Huggins scored 14 points in the Mountaineers’ 112-71 victory.