MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Peppered by network analysts, beat writers and West Virginia loyalists about the health of his point guard entering the NCAA tournament, Bob Huggins sounded a hearty endorsement.
“For all the Mountaineer fans that are wondering if Juwan Staten is back—he is back,” Huggins said Monday night. “He has played exceptionally well for two days. Exceptionally well.”
The coach, appearing on MetroNews Sportsline, said Staten looked sufficiently recovered from a knee injury that shelved him the past four games. “He was going by people, making great decisions, really into it.”
So into it, that after being excused from the final period of practice in order to begin icing the knee, Staten hung around to work on his jump shot. Some 15 minutes later, Huggins had to order his best player off the court. “I’m like, ‘That’s it. You’re done. Go get treatment.’ He’s excited. He really wants to play.”
Staten’s teammate Gary Browne also is expected back for Friday afternoon’s NCAA tournament opener when Midwest No. 5 seed West Virginia (23-9) encounters 12th-seeded Buffalo (23-9) in Columbus, Ohio.
Staten was averaging a team-high 14.5 points and Browne precisely half that before a left ankle sprain led to a stint on the DL. Both are expected to play quality minutes Friday.
“I worry a little bit about their cardio, but that’s all,” Huggins said.
West Virginia opened as a 4.5-point favorite against Buffalo, the tightest spread of any 5-12 matchup, and CBS analysts Doug Gottlieb and Seth Davis promptly climbed aboard the Bulls’ upset bandwagon. Huggins said he didn’t put much stock in predictions from “a guy who couldn’t shoot 50 percent at the free-throw line and another guy who played intramurals at Duke.”
Though Buffalo has won eight consecutive games, only two of those came against RPI top-100 teams—No. 74 Central Michigan and No. 93 Kent State.
“They’re a good basketball team,” Huggins said, “but here’s a news flash for all those people: So are we.”