5. West Virginia (23-9, 11-7/Big 12)–The Mountaineers boast one of the best guards in the Big 12 in 6-1 senior Juwan Staten, who averages 14.5 points and 4.6 assists per game. The problem with that, though, is Staten hurt his knee against Texas on Feb. 24–and missed the team’s final four games, including the Big 12 quarterfinals against Baylor.
Even if Staten returns, West Virginia is in for a dogfight with No. 12 Buffalo, for reasons listed below. The Bulls have the size to pose problems for WVU, which struggled with length in losses to LSU, Baylor, Texas and Kansas.
6-9 forward Devin Williams (11.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg) will have to be huge if the Mountaineers want to keep dancing next weekend. Of course, much of this team’s fortunes will come down to Staten’s status. You can’t win in the NCAAs without great guard play, and without Staten, WVU might not have enough.
Also keep in mind that 12-seeds have won 66 percent of games over 5-seeds in the last three years.
1st Steals per game (10.9)
36th Points per game (73.9)
50th Assists per game (14.5)
12. Buffalo Bulls (23-9, 12-6/MAC)– Bobby Hurley’s Bulls enter the NCAAs as one of the most popular upset picks, and there are some real good reasons for that. The MAC champs have won eight straight games, have a head coach with big-time basketball credentials, and boast a bona-fide stud in junior Justin Moss, who averages 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
Buffalo also led at halftime in road games against Kentucky at Rupp Arena (38-33) and in Madison against Wisconsin (27-26). They lost, 71-52, and 68-56, respectively. Regardless, this team isn’t going to be afraid of a challenge. Its coach and its players have been there before.
Unlike many teams in the country this year, Buffalo can score, ranking 28th in the nation in points per game at 75 per.
They’ve also got good guard play, as sophomore Shannon Evans puts up 15.4 points and 4.7 assists per game.
28th Points per game (75)
16th Rebounds per game (38.4)
237th Points Allowed (68.3)
PREDICTION: Staten tries to gut this one out, but he’s not himself, and therefore, neither is West Virginia. Buffalo turns the classic 5-12 upset, then gives Maryland a run for its money before falling in Round 2.