(AP) – One year after missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, West Virginia is back in the Big Dance and looking capable of making some noise.
The sixth-seeded Mountaineers will try to advance to the second round for the seventh time in 10 years Friday in Columbus, Ohio, as they face an 11th-seeded Princeton team with plenty of tournament experience.
West Virginia (24-9) is the bigger and stronger team, known for playing smothering defense. At 6-foot-5, center Lanay Montgomery is a dominating force inside. Senior guard Bria Holmes averages 16.4 points for the Mountaineers, who had to settle for an NIT berth last season after making six consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
Article continues below ...
''They're a great team,'' Princeton senior forward Annie Tarakchian said. ''They're long, they're fast, they're physical, so that definitely stood out. I think as a team we're going to have to be poised and play the way we know how to play.''
Princeton will at least be familiar with Columbus. They lost by 20 points to Ohio State at Value City Arena on Dec. 18, though this one will be played down the street at St. John Arena.
The Tigers (23-5) are also familiar with the NCAA Tournament. This is their sixth trip in seven years, with last season's first-round win over Green Bay the first in program history.
Princeton, which shoots 46.3 percent from the field, holds opponents to 34.3 percent – a field-goal percentage difference that's the sixth-best among tournament teams.
“They're pretty good defensively,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. “They keep themselves in front of you, they get to the ball, they rebound well, and they all can run. Their post players run as well as any of their guards, which is a concern for us. They do have good size on the perimeter all the way around, which means they can switch and do some things defensively because of their size.”
Princeton is paced by Tarakchian and 6-foot-2 center Alex Wheatley, both of whom play key roles in the Tigers having the second-best rebounding differential (14.8 per game) in the tournament field. West Virginia is 22nd at plus-6.5.
For both teams, it typically comes down to how well they shoot. Both West Virginia and Princeton are 21-1 when shooting better than 40 percent.
The winner will face third-seeded Ohio State or 14th-seeded Buffalo in the second round Sunday.