No. 13 West Virginia braces for Buffalo
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins will have eight newcomers to potentially juggle in and out of the lineup when his No. 13 Mountaineers open their season at home against Buffalo on Friday night.
"We've been talking about Buffalo since I got here in the summertime," West Virginia freshman guard Jordan McCabe told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "We saw them as a very good first game for us. They're going to test us in a lot of ways and I think we're ready for that test."
The Mountaineers may need time to mesh if an 84-82 exhibition loss to Penn State on Saturday is an indication.
"There's a lot to learn," Huggins, who begins his 12th season at West Virginia and 37th overall, told the Gazette-Mail. "In the Penn State game, we turned the ball over taking it out of bounds. I don't remember the last time we did that. But we hadn't worked on it. There's a lot of stuff that you have to get ready for. Press-breaker. Half-court traps. And if you're not ready and someone throws something at you that you really aren't ready for, you're not going to fare very well."
Huggins will be challenged to teach a new group the intricacies of his Press Virginia defense, which "slumped" to 10th nationally in turnovers forced last season at 16.5 per game after leading the country with an average of 20 in 2016-17.
The Mountaineers will be hard-pressed to replace Javon Carter, who averaged 17.3 points, 6.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 3.0 steals last season before being taken in the second round by the Memphis Grizzlies. West Virginia to advanced to the Sweet 16 in March before losing to eventual national champion Villanova 90-78.
The Bulls, a unanimous choice to win the Mid-American Conference East Division, opened their season with an 82-67 victory over St. Francis (Pa.) on Tuesday as senior forward Nick Perkins led the way with 16 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes. He is the reigning two-time MAC Sixth Man of the Year.
Perkins, along with senior guards CJ Massinburg and Jeremy Harris, were All-MAC preseason selections. Massinburg, who paced Buffalo in scoring (17 points per game) and rebounding (7.3), contributed 11 points and eight boards Tuesday.
Massinburg and Perkins were first-team selections last season while Harris was a second-team pick.
"Everyone is expecting us to do well," Bulls coach Nate Oats said entering the season. "But I'd rather have that pressure than not have any expectations."
Buffalo will have a hard time penetrating the Mountaineers' defense if All-Big 12 preseason pick Sagaba Konate has his way. West Virginia's 6-8 junior forward, who blocked 116 shots last season, needs 22 to break the school record of 190 set by D'or Fischer from 2003-05.
Konate (10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds) is the top returning scorer and rebounder. Esa Ahmad and his 10.2 points and 5.5 rebounds are also back. The senior forward has started 82 of his 89 career games at West Virginia.
West Virginia is 113-28 in non-conference regular season contests under Huggins, including 64-5 at home.
The Mountaineers defeated the Bulls 68-62 in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament in their last meeting.
Updated November 9, 2018