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Mountaineers begin NCAA Tournament run today in Columbus

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The fifth-seeded West Virginia University Men’s Basketball team begin their quest towards the Final Four later today when they take on the twelfth-seeded Buffalo Bulls in an NCAA Tournament second round match-up at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. To get you set for today’s game, here is a quick preview of all the action:

Trends and Streaks:

WVU is coming into the big dance fresh off an 80-70 loss they suffered at the hands of Baylor last Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Phillips 66 Big XII Men’s Basketball Championships. The Mountaineers are 5-5 in their last ten games, but are just 1-3 over the course of their last four contests.

Buffalo comes into today’s game in the midst of an eight-game winning streak. The Bulls successfully took care of business in last week’s MAC tournament by dispatching of Akron in the semi-finals (68-59), and then defeated Central Michigan in the championship game (89-84) to win their way into this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Daxter Miles Jr. will be counted on to continue his recent string of consistency today in a tough-second round game against Buffalo (photo via: Campusinsiders.com/Ray Thompson)

Daxter Miles Jr. will be counted on to continue his recent string of consistency today in a tough-second round game against Buffalo (photo via: Campusinsiders.com/Ray Thompson)

Tournament Resumes:

West Virginia earned an at-large bid to this year’s tournament for the first time in three seasons. They compiled a regular season record of 23-9, and finished the campaign with an RPI of 24. The Mountaineers were 7-8 against teams with an RPI of 50 or better during the regular season, and had no losses this year against teams with an RPI lower than 100. West Virginia also had the 39th toughest schedule in the nation this season. This will be the program’s 26th appearance in the tournament, all-time.

Buffalo earned an automatic bid to the dance after winning last week’s MAC Tournament. They finished the regular season with a record of 23-9, and have an RPI of 29 to show for their efforts. The Bulls were 0-2 against teams with an RPI of 50 or better this season – those games coming against one-seeds Kentucky and Wisconsin.

However, Buffalo’s only bad loss of the season came against the lowly Ohio Bobcats on January 24th. In their only other game against a team that qualified for this year’s NCAA tournament, the Bulls proved victorious in a 74-59 road test against the NEC champion Robert Morris Colonials back on December 7th. Today will be the school’s very first appearance in the Men’s NCAA Tournament.

Series History:

Today’s game will mark the third all-time meeting between Buffalo and West Virginia in Men’s Basketball. UB won the very first meeting by a score of 41-23 back on February 21st, 1918. The Mountaineers would take the second game almost a full century later when they defeated the Bulls 91-46 on December 11th, 1991.

Team Leaders:

Senior guard Juwan Staten continues to lead the Mountaineers in scoring with an average of 14.5 points per game. Staten also leads the team in assists with 125 on the season so far. Sophomore forward Devin Williams leads the team in rebounding with 253.

Newcomers Jonathan Holton, Jaysean Paige, Jevon Carter, and Elijah Macon all lead the Mountaineers in several other key statistical categories including field goal percentage (Macon- 47.4%), three-point shooting percentage (Paige- 38.6%), foul shooting (Carter- 77.2%), blocks (Holton- 28), and steals (Carter- 59).

Buffalo's Shannon Evans (#11) will be a tough player to stop in today's game.  He's averaging 16.1 points and 5.5 assists per game over the course of his team's ongoing eight-game winning streak (photo via: Flickr/Chad Cooper)

Buffalo’s Shannon Evans (#11) will be a tough player to stop in today’s game. He’s averaging 16.1 points and 5.5 assists per game over the course of his team’s ongoing eight-game winning streak (photo via: Flickr/Chad Cooper)

For the Bulls, All-MAC First Team selection Justin Moss leads the squad in scoring with an average of 17.7 points per game. Moss also leads the team in rebounding with 296 to his credit thus far. All-MAC Second Team selection Shannon Evans leads the team in foul shooting (79.6%), assists (151), and steals (55).

UB’s other statistical leaders include junior forward Raheem Johnson (54.8% FG and 36 blocked shots), and junior guard Jarryn Skeete (39.6% 3PT).

Who to Watch:

For West Virginia, keep your eye on No. 4 Daxter Miles Jr. The 6’3” freshman out of Baltimore, Maryland has done a terrific job of late picking up the slack left behind due to recent injuries sustained by seniors Juwan Staten and Gary Browne. Over the course of his team’s last five games, Miles is averaging 14.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. If the Mountaineers are to move forward in this year’s tournament, Miles will need to continue his recent string of consistency, especially if Staten and/or Browne don’t play.

Highlighting the Buffalo side of things will be No. 11 Shannon Evans. The 6’1” junior out of Suffolk, Virginia has been an instrumental part in the Bulls recent upswing. During his team’s ongoing eight-game winning streak, Evans is averaging 16.1 points and 5.5 assists per game. Evans is also the team’s best foul shooter, so it will be important that West Virginia avoids putting him at the line often in today’s game.

Key of the Game

It will be crucial that WVU limits the self-inflicted errors today against one of the toughest low seeds in this year’s tournament. Over the course of their last five games, West Virginia is turning the ball over an average of 14.2 times a game. That includes the disparaging 22 miscues that were committed in WVU’s recent overtime loss to No. 9 Kansas. With Browne and Staten expected to return to the line-up this afternoon, there’s hope that their veteran leadership will help provide a calming presence over this young team.

Tip-off of today’s game is slated for 2:10 PM. The game will be televised nationally on TNT.

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