West Virginia has lost three of its past four games heading into the NCAA Tournament, but the way coach Bob Huggins sees it, that just helps his team be battle-tested for the most important part of the season.
“I think we’ve played as good of a schedule as virtually anybody has,” Huggins said. “Our league helps a lot with that because we had so many ranked teams. I think we played a very competitive, very well-rounded schedule.”
Third-seeded West Virginia (18-9) will play No. 14 Morehead State (23-7) in a Midwest Region game on Friday night in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The late losses didn’t appear to make much of a dent in the Mountaineers’ seeding, given that the defeats came to NCAA tourney No. 1 seed Baylor and twice to surging Oklahoma State, including in the Big 12 tournament.
“The fact that we struggled a little bit down the stretch … we lost nine games and we’re a three seed so that bodes well for who we’ve played,” Huggins said.
This is Huggins’ 25th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and the 10th in his 14 seasons at West Virginia. He’ll bring one of his most talented offensive teams against a hot Morehead State team that has gone 19-1 since the beginning of January.
The Eagles finished second in the Ohio Valley Conference and then won the conference tournament by beating top-seeded Belmont to punch their ticket to the NCAAs for the first time since 2011.
“Anytime you’re going into tournament time you want to be playing your best and our team has proven that,” said Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin.
The Eagles’ calling cards have been defense and controlling tempo after a 4-6 start to the season. They are allowing 63.4 points per game, 40.3 percent shooting and 30.7 percent accuracy from behind the arc.
“Our guys from the beginning had great buy in,” Spradlin said.
“We had a difficult schedule and we were shaking off the rust from a lot of guys that didn’t play last year or were new to our program. Four of our five starters didn’t play for us last year and that makes a big difference. We knew it was going to take some time for everybody to find their footing.”
Morehead State is led by 6-foot-10 forward Johni Broome, the OVC Freshman of the Year who is averaging 13.9 points and 9.0 rebounds. West Virginia counters with a strong physical presence in burly Derek Culver (14.6 points, 9.8 rebounds per game).
“That’s going to be the marquee matchup of the night without a doubt,” Spradlin said.
What makes the West Virginia offense go is that Culver is surrounded by sharpshooting guards Miles McBride, Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil. McBride averages a team-best 15.4 points. All three guards shoot better than 36.6 percent from 3-point range.
The Mountaineers are 11th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
And they are rested, having played just once since March 6, which capped a week in which they played four games.
“I think these guys will be ready to go,” Huggins said. “I think they’ll be chomping at the bit to be able to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Huggins will be going for the 900th victory of his career, which includes 71 wins at Walsh College, an NAIA school.
–Field Level Media