Reaching the mountaintop: The Spectrum’s scouting report

Spectrum scouts the Bulls’ NCAA tournament opponent West Virginia Mountaineers

juwan_staten

The Buffalo men’s basketball team (23-9, 12-6 Mid-American Conference) has received the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Regional for the NCAA Tournament and will play No. 5 West Virginia Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

The Mountaineers (23-9, 11-7 Big 12) finished their regular season ranked No. 20 in the AP Top-25 and received an at-large bid to the tournament after losing to Baylor in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament.

Led by eighth-year head coach Bob Huggins, West Virginia features a mix of versatile big men and elusive guards who the ability to stymie the high-tempo Bulls offense with its highly touted full-court press defense.

The Spectrum scouted the Mountaineers projected starting five as well as a matchup to watch out for.

Juwan Staten, senior guard

Staten is the only Mountaineer to earn back-to-back nods to the All-Big 12 First Team for consecutive years. The senior is regarded as West Virginia’s best player, averaging 14.5 points – which leads the team – and 4.6 assists per game this season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is known for his ball handling and ability to get to the rim. Staten is also a good spot-up shooter from the floor and could give Buffalo trouble with his offensive arsenal.

Staten missed the final four games of the season due to a knee injury. West Virginia went 1-3 in Staten’s absence after riding a three-game winning streak prior to his injury. According to multiple reports, Staten will be ready for Friday’s matchup.

Gary Browne, senior guard

Like Staten, Browne was injured toward the end of the regular season and into the Big 12 Tournament due to an ankle injury suffered against Baylor on Feb. 28. But he is expected to play, according to Huggins via 247sports.com

The senior averaged seven points and 1.8 rebounds per game this season, but is a solid defender in the paint and around the perimeter. Buffalo’s elusive guards will have trouble getting open with Browne guarding them.

Daxter Miles Jr., freshman guard

In his first season with the team, Miles has stepped into a starting role as one of the top guards on the team. The freshman averaged 7.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in 20 minutes per game.

Miles has scored in double-digits in five straight games – including a career-high 23 points against No. 9 Kansas on March 3. With Browne and Staten injured, the freshman emerged as a scoring threat over the past month. If Browne and Staten aren’t 100 percent healthy, Miles could be a pivotal player for the Mountaineers.

Devin Williams, sophomore forward

The second-year big man is one of the most consistent shooters on the team. Williams averaged 11.3 and a team-leading 8.2 rebounds per game this season while shooting 44 percent from the field and 69 percent from the free throw line.

The 6-foot-9 forward is a dominant presence in the post and has the ability to alter the Buffalo forwards' production. Although he only averages 0.3 blocks per game, he makes up defensive production on the glass.

Jonathan Holton, junior forward

Despite averaging just 21 minutes per game this season, Holton put up nearly eight points and six boards while shooting 46 percent from the field.

Holton’s 6-foot-7 frame enables him to be a versatile threat in the paint. He leads the team with 0.9 blocks per game. He can also shoot from all parts of the floor, accumulating a .207 3-point shooting percentage and shooting 67 percent from the charity stripe.

Matchup to watch: Buffalo offense against West Virginia’s full-court press defense

The Bulls run a high-tempo offense, led by a three-guard system. Sophomore guard Shannon Evans runs the fast-paced offense, paired with other versatile guards who can spread the floor and create holes in the defense. The Bulls ranked third in the Mid-American Conference in points per game (73.9).

But West Virginia is expected to run a full-court press throughout the game, which might limit Buffalo’s ability to create open shots. If Buffalo could shake off the full-court press, there’s a chance it can pull off the upset. If they are contained, the Bulls might be exiting the big dance early.

Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com