Indianapolis, Indiana – The West Virginia Mountaineers received an absolute gift from the NCAA Selection Committee when they were given a 3 seed in the Midwest Region, and perhaps the easiest path to a Final Four for any 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
West Virginia’s 84-67 win against Morehead State was a perfect tune-up for today’s second round game against the Syracuse Orange, the 11 seed.
The Mountaineers are currently a 4 point favorite, but nothing about the way that these teams performed this season suggests that that is an accurate line.
West Virginia is battle-tested out of the tough, grueling Big 12 Conference and played tough against the best teams in the entire nation, including an early-season matchup with the undefeated, #1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Syracuse, on the other hand, has only beaten one Top 25 team this season – a 78 – 60 win against the then-25th ranked Virginia Tech Hokies at home. That was their best win of the regular season. Finishing 16-9 in the very down ACC, it’s truly a wonder that they even made the NCAA Tournament!
Coach’s son, Buddy Boeheim, is a talented shooter, averaging 17.7 points per game while shooting 39% from three point range, but he will be a non-factor if the Mountaineers play the same aggressive, tough defense they played in the opener against Morehead State.
Although Derek Culver struggled in the 1st round, he should be able to absolutely eat all game against a weak Orange interior defense. Again, Culver must attack the rim and not continue to settle for layups as he recently has. This game has double-double Culver written all over it.
A lot has been said about Boeheim’s 2-3 zone and the difficulties that Huggins’ teams have had in the past against it, but ultimately, Bob Huggins has never had a team that can shoot like this team can. Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman should have a field day shooting over top of the zone.
In addition, Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews, Jr. should be able to carve up the zone with penetration to the basket. McBride getting into the lane and hitting mid-range jumpers, and Matthews getting to the basket and actually finishing, will be key.
Although West Virginia has played down to their opponents this season, this is a win or go home game, and the Mountaineers understand that. Look for the Mountaineers to start strong and blow out a very average Syracuse team today.
On to the Sweet 16!