Just about every year, a No. 12 seed upsets a No. 5 in the NCAA Tournament. Many people placing sports picks are jumping on No. 12 Buffalo to do the same Friday against West Virginia.
Hurley Royalty in NCAA Tournament
While the Bulls are in their first-ever NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament and thus lack postseason experience, their coach has plenty of it. That would be former Duke star point guard Bobby Hurley, who is in his second year at the school. Hurley led the Blue Devils to three straight Final Fours and consecutive championships in 1991 and 1992.
Buffalo is 23-9 overall and finished the regular season 12-6 in the Mid-American Conference, which was good for first place in the East Division. The Bulls were underdogs in the MAC Championship Game against West Division Champion Central Michigan in Cleveland but won 89-84. Buffalo's best player is junior forward Justin Moss, who leads the team in scoring (17.7 ppg) and rebounding (9.3). The MAC Player of the Year tweaked an ankle on the eve of the MAC Tournament but played through it. He struggled, however, managing just five points in the Bulls' first game against Akron and 10 against CMU (did have 11 points vs. the Chips). The Bulls won their eighth straight game to take the title.
Hurley's team didn't beat a Power 5 Conference team this season but played Kentucky fairly well at Rupp Arena on Nov. 16, losing 71-52. The Bulls led by five at the half but were just 4-for-19 from the field in the second. Buffalo also played at Wisconsin on Dec. 28 and only lost by 12, leading the Badgers by a point at the half. The Bulls like to play fast, leading the MAC in scoring and ranking among the nation's Top 25 in possessions per game. They struggle from behind the 3-point arc, however.
Buffalo was rated by the tournament selection committee as 48th in the 68-team field, second among the four No. 12 seeds. West Virginia was rated No. 19 in the field. At Bovada, Buffalo is 500/1 to win the NCAA title and 150/1 to win the Midwest Region. The Bulls are 16-13 against the NCAA Basketball odds this season and 14-8-1 'over/under.'
Huggins Back in Big Dance
West Virginia (23-9) is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. The Mountaineers finished fifth in the deep Big 12 at 11-7 and lost their conference tournament opener 80-70 to ranked Baylor. In fact, WVU lost three of its final four games.
There are two major injury concerns for Coach Bob Huggins' team. WVU's leading scorer (14.5 ppg) and assist man (4.6 apg), first-team All-Big 12 senior guard Juwan Staten, missed the final four games with a knee injury. Fellow senior guard Gary Browne (7.0 ppg) essentially missed the final four as well with a high-ankle sprain. I expect both to play Friday. Browne is the only player on the current Mountaineer roster to have played for West Virginia in the 2012 tournament.
"We're good to go," said Huggins, the Big 12 Coach of the Year, during a teleconference on Monday. With those two out, Huggins had to scale back his pressure defense, so now the coach says, "We're going to get back to making the game the way we want it to go."
WVU has to press because it can't shoot, hitting only 41.1 percent from the field on the season, 282nd among Division I teams. But WVU averaged 10.9 steals per game, No. 1 in the country. It also led in fouls committed at 23.2.
The No. 5 seed is 76-44 (.633) in the tournament against the No. 12 seed all-time. The WVU-Buffalo winner will face the winner of No. 4 Maryland and No. 13 Valparaiso on Sunday, also in Columbus. West Virginia is 100/1 to win the NCAA Tournament and 50/1 to win the Midwest Region. The Mountaineers are 17-13 against the spread and 14-10-1 'over/under' at sportsbooks.
NCAAB Free Pick: If Staten were out, I'd place my NCAA Tournament pick on the Buffalo upset here but not if he's good to go as Huggins claims. Keep in mind that whoever wins this matchup, will have to face the winner of Maryland vs. Valparaiso. So give the points and go 'over' the total at 5Dimes. WVU is 6-2 ATS in its past eight non-conference games. The 'over' 10-4-1 in Buffalo's past 15 after a win. It is 4-0 in WVU's past four games.