Pressure! West Virginia, Stephen F Austin match frenetic D
NEW YORK (AP) West Virginia and Stephen F. Austin meet in the first round of the NCAA Tournament's East Regional and it could get messy. There will be turnovers. Maybe lots of them.
''I hope there's not and I hope there is,'' Stephen F. Austin coach Brad Underwood said.
Pressure defense is the calling card for both the third-seeded Mountaineers and (27-5) and No. 14 Lumberjacks, the top two teams in the country in terms of forcing turnovers.
The Mountaineers under coach Bob Huggins bill themselves as ''Press Virginia.'' Few teams play defense with the intensity and end-to-end effort that West Virginia does.
''The style of defense we play, conditioning is a big part of it,'' Mountaineers guard Jaysean Paige said Thursday at Barclays Center.
West Virginia is tops in the nation in steals at 9.9 per game and second in turnovers forced at 18.15 per game.
''We don't let people do what they want,'' West Virginia's Teyvon Myers said.
The Lumberjacks' numbers are just as impressive. They lead the nation in turnovers forced at 18.63 per game and are seventh in steals at 9.1 per game, but they take a different approach when it comes to pressure.
''We mix up our defenses in the full court. But ours is more half-court oriented, taking passing lanes away, denial,'' Underwood said. ''We have a young man in Trey Pinkney at the point who's as good on the ball defender as I've been around in my time as a coach. There's total pressure on the offense the entire time.''
West Virginia reached the Big 12 championship game and is in the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in nine seasons under coach Bob Huggins.
The Lumberjacks are making their third straight NCAA appearances as Southland Conference champions under Underwood, who worked for Huggins for one season at Kansas State. In 2014, Stephen F. Austin beat VCU in its first NCAA Tournament game, facing down the Rams' frenetic Havoc defense.
''So we're kind of going to take the same steps in this game because me and Thomas (Walkup) was a part of that team,'' Pinkney said. ''So we prepare for it the same way, and we're going to handle the pressure to the best of our abilities.''
Things to know about West Virginia and Stephen F. Austin.
HUGGY BEAR: Huggins, who has reached the Final Four with West Virginia and Cincinnati, can be a little intimidating, sometimes gruff and often very dry with his humor.
Underwood knows a different side of Huggins and appreciates his ability to connect with players.
''There's two things that Hugs did that were unbelievably impressive to me, and one, as a head coach I've never been around or seen anyone who has spent as much time recruiting as he did as a head coach, a fabulous recruiter,'' Underwood said. ''The other thing is he's the single best communicator with people and players that I've ever seen. Just has an unbelievable way of affecting young men in a positive way.
''His players love him to death and it's a great learning experience for me,'' Underwood added.
RETURN TO BROOKLYN: There is a lot of Brooklyn on this West Virginia roster.
Myers and teammates Tarik Phillip both grew up not far from Barclays Center and have known and played against each other since they were kids.
''He won a couple of game, I won a couple of games,'' Phillip said. ''He can score the ball so it's definitely good to have him on my side.''
Phillips, who played at Brooklyn College Academy, said what he misses most about home is the shopping.
''Clothes, sneakers. They got a whole bunch of stores you can get sneakers from around here,'' Phillip said. ''In Morgantown there's probably one store where they got all the sneakers and they got one size in each. If you don't get it you pretty much miss out.''
If the Mountaineers get some free time this weekend, Phillip said he plans to take his teammates shopping.
Myers said one of the big reasons why he transferred to West Virginia from junior college was because of his relationship with Phillip.
''Great guy to have on my team,'' Myers said. ''Tells me when I'm doing something wrong. Let's me know I need to be locked in at all times.''
NEXT: The winner plays either Notre Dame or Michigan on Sunday.