WVU vs. Buffalo: Logical storylines for a most illogical tournament

West Virginia guard Daxter Miles Jr. has started all 32 games, reaching double digits in each of the last five.

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If a 3-point goaltend can prolong UCLA’s season. If Baylor’s stingy defense can cough up a 12-point lead in the final 2:39. If UAB can hold Iowa State to 59 points after surrendering 83 to UT-Chattanooga …

If all that weirdness can transpire within the span of a single March afternoon, who dares hazard a guess as to what factor will decide West Virginia-Buffalo on Day 2 of the madness? Here are three pregame storylines to peruse as two 23-9 clubs collide, even though the NCAA tournament warns us expect the ridiculous:

Those fearless West Virginia freshmen
Daxter Miles declared himself a starter the first day of practice and made it stand up for 32 games. Jevon Carter showed whipsmart instincts while TCU’s older players enjoyed a nano-second of celebration. Elijah Macon shot 60 percent during the recent 11-game stretch that included 10 NCAA tournament teams.

Together, they’re the future of West Virginia basketball. That in no way minimizes their importance to the present.

“We have guys who walk into any venue without fear,” said coach Bob Huggins. “You think about what our freshman did walking int Allen Fieldhouse, and should have won the game. You walk in there without your two senior leaders and they never missed a beat. They didn’t act like they were afraid.”

Miles scored a season-high 23 at Kansas and was genuinely deflated when the Jayhawks rallied to win in overtime. He has five consecutive double-figure performances after accomplishing that only seven times in the first 27 games.

With Juwan Staten and Gary Browne sidelined, Carter saw his first extended action at point guard and pumped in 25 at Baylor.

“They’re not your everyday freshmen,” Staten said. “When we were out (injured), they showed us they have a lot of fight.”

Buffalo forward Justin Moss made the leap from reserve to MAC player of the year.

 

Meet Justin Moss, mid-major beast
As a sophomore last season, the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 9 minutes per game while backing up MAC player of the Javon McCrea. So, you’ll forgive Bobby Hurley for not envisioning Moss suddenly emerging as this year’s away winner.

“But then in individual workouts I kept watching Justin Moss just destroy people in the gym,” Hurley said.

While Moss’ totals this year—17.7 points and 9.2 boards—topped the MAC, he also improved his foul shooting from 50 to 73 percent, quite a benefit considering his 226 free throws rank 13th nationally.

His toughness and ability to wrestle for position inside, not to mention those short dreads, certainly bring to mind a familiar villain from West Virginia’s own league

“Reminds us a little of Rico Gathers,” Staten said.

And on a medical front, he also reminds us of Hank Gathers, because Moss plays with a defibrillator inserted in his chest—a means of managing his hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the condition that claimed Gathers 25 years ago.

 

West Virginia aims to trap after baskets and misses. Buffalo aims to run at every opportunity. Buckle up.

 

Pushing pace
All season, West Virginia’s press has excelled at speeding up opponents, and the Mountaineers will try that Friday. Only Buffalo likes to play fast on offense, and typically manages to avoid turnovers while doing so. With both teams getting their preferred pace, who will capitalize: Steals for the Mountaineers or layups for the Bulls?

“They’re going to run, make or miss,” said Huggins. “They get it to the rim and go rebound it. They really come flying at you.”

For those who think Bulls might be intimidated by WVU’s defensive aggression, second-leading scorer Shannon Evans pointed toward a certain game from Nov. 16.

”We played Kentucky—that’s the best you can get,” Evans said. “The Harrison twins, they’re pretty big, like 6-6. Real fast. So that press that Kentucky has is just as good as West Virginia has, if not better.”

Tipoff: 2 p.m. Friday in Columbus, Ohio (TNT)

Line: West Virginia favored by 4.5

Prediction: West Virginia 72-69





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