MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Selection Sunday brought West Virginia precisely what it expected, a No. 4 seed and a starting destination tinged with sentimental value.
The Mountaineers (26-8) were slotted in the West Region and will face 13th-seeded Bucknell (26-8) on Thursday at 2:45 p.m. in Buffalo, the site where 2010’s Final Four run began.
“I like Buffalo,” coach Bob Huggins said. “It was good to us last time.”
Top-seeded Gonzaga fronts the West bracket, followed by No. 2 Arizona and third-seeded Florida State. If the chalk holds into the second round, West Virginia would face No. 5 seed Notre Dame on Saturday.
That’s a round-of-32 matchup the Mountaineers expected last year in Brooklyn until Stephen F. Austin got in the way — a sting that hasn’t subsided much after 350 days. During Sunday night’s Q&A session, as staffers began scouting Bucknell, three WVU players vowed not to take the Patriot League champs likely.
“We can’t look past our opponent, which, honestly, we did a little bit last year,” said senior Nathan Adrian.
West Virginia opened as 14-point favorite.
On Saturday night’s flight home from Kansas City, Huggins rewatched the 80-74 loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 championship.
“We didn’t make a free throw, we turned the ball over excessively, and (Iowa State) probably played as well as they’ve ever played — and we lose by six,” he said.
Huggins wasn’t convinced beating the Cyclones a third time would have boosted West Virginia’s seeding or kept them in the East Region for a potential Sweet 16 run to Madison Square Garden. Shrugging off the prospect of a second-week trip to San Jose, Huggins was more concerned with his players not repeating the poor practices that preceded last season’s SFA upset.
“We had no enthusiasm, we were just kind of out there,” he said. ”They were horrible. Horrible.”
How does he plan to rectify that?
“I tell them I’m going to throw their ass out if they’re that way this time.”
30-1 odds to win it all
The Westgate Casino lumped West Virginia within a five-team cluster at 30-1 odds to win the national championship. Among the other Big 12 teams making the field, Kansas is listed at 8-1, Baylor 40-1, Iowa State 60-1, Oklahoma State 100-1 and First Four play-in participant Kansas State is 300-1.
Duke, despite being a No. 2 seed, is the overall favorite at 5-1.
Bucknell won its conference at 15-3 before handling business in the Patriot League tourney with three wins on its home floor. Behind that 63 RPI is 6-foot-9 conference player of the year Nana Foulland (14.9 points, 7.8 rebounds) and versatile tournament MVP Zach Thomas (16 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists).
With four starters in double figures, Bucknell ranks 25th nationally in field-goal shooting at 48.1 percent.
The Bison lost big in November at Wake Forest (94-74) and Butler (86-60) before upsetting NCAA No. 9 seed Vanderbilt 75-72 in Nashville.
Eleven years have passed since Bucknell, armed with only five scholarship players, famously stunned third-seeded Kansas 64-63. The Bison were back for the 2006 draw as a ninth seed and beat Arkansas 59-55. They have appeared in the NCAAs twice since.
Feeling saucy in Buffalo
To open their memorable 2010 NCAA tournament run, the Mountaineers defeated Morgan State 77-50 and Missouri 68-59 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The 19,000-seat venue has since undergone renovations and a name change to KeyBank Center.
Wednesday’s practice session schedule for the four West Region teams in the Buffalo pod:
Princeton – noon to 12:40 p.m.
Bucknell – 12:45 to 1:25 p.m.
Notre Dame – 1:30 to 2:10 p.m.
West Virginia – 2:15 to 2:55 p.m.