West Virginia: 2017 March Madness

Conference: Big 12 (At-Large)

Record: 26-8 (12-6)

NCAA Tournament Seed: 4 (West)

How they got to the Big Dance

Bob Huggins’ squad had yet another impressive season in 2016-17. The Mountaineers played a fairly easy non-conference schedule, but did pick up a big win at Virginia in December. In Big 12 play, West Virginia’s biggest win came in January against then-No. 1 Baylor. The Mountaineers had a chance for an even more impressive win against Kansas in Lawrence, but saw a 14-point lead disappear in the final four minutes of the game. Overtime was not the Mountaineers’ friend during Big 12 play as they were upset by Texas Tech and Oklahoma in extra time. Even with some disappointing losses, West Virginia was able to finish the conference season as the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and got by Texas and Kansas State to advance to the Big 12 Championship game, where they fell to Iowa State. They will take on Bucknell in the round of 64.

Why they’re a legitimate contender

Press Virginia will be in full effect during March Madness, but this time with a twist. The Mountaineers will still implement their swarming defense that gives opposing teams and coaches nightmares, but in 2017 they have an offense to go with it. West Virginia’s defense allows only 66.3 and forces its opponents to commit 20.4 turnovers per game. However, unlike in years past in which the defense was its only weapon, Huggins’ team has an offense that ranks 21st in scoring at 82 points per game to compliment the press. Double-figures scorers Jevon Carter, Esa Ahmad and Nathan Adrian have helped give West Virginia a plus-15.6 scoring margin that ranks third in the nation. West Virginia’s pressure-packed defense and explosive offense is a one-two punch that could propel the team deep into March.

Why they’re not a legitimate contender

Closing could be a problem for West Virginia come tournament time. The collapse against Kansas was no 3-1 lead, but it was a game the Mountaineers should have won. There have also been multiple other cases in which West Virginia has struggled down the stretch, resulting in overtime losses and added pressure. Come March, no game is over until the fat lady sings, and when it comes to West Virginia, there is no truer statement. If West Virginia has a lead, they can’t afford to let it slip away, because in March, anything is possible.

Player to Watch: Guard Jevon Carter

Both on offense and defense, the Mountaineers will only go as far as Carter can take them. The junior guard leads the team in scoring and steals. Not only does the ball go through him on offense, but West Virginia’s feared press is at its best when Carter is running around and creating havoc. Carter has also played a team-high 1,079 minutes this season, and Coach Huggins clearly feels like West Virginia needs him on the floor in order to succeed. If the Mountaineers are winning games, it will be Jevon Carter leading the way.