As I sat in the cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium, it was hard to believe that it had been three years since the West Virginia Mountaineers had appeared in the NCAA Tournament, but now they’re back.
Many people were probably expecting a blowout win for WVU since it was the No. 3/No. 14 seed matchup in the Midwest Region. However, I had a feeling Morehead State would give the Mountaineers a little trouble, at least for the first half.
Up until the 16-minute mark in the second half, it looked as if Morehead State would be in it to the end. However, head coach Bob Huggins burned a timeout after the Eagles cut it to one and the Mountaineers took off, as they outscored Morehead State by 16 points in the final 16 minutes.
I think one of the biggest keys to this win was the second half play of Derek Culver. Culver had a very rough first half with only two points at the break — both from the free throw line. He erupted in the second half to finish with 12 points and the Mountaineers neutralized Johni Broome as he scored two points in the second half on 1-of-8 shooting.
Miles McBride had an excellent game with 30 points, but I really think it was Culver that drove this win. There was little to no inside presence for WVU in the first half, but it matched the Eagles in the paint because of Culver’s awakening.
The defense was strong for WVU, but it will need to improve on the perimeter before its Second Round matchup against Buddy Boeheim and Syracuse. On the year, the Eagles shot 35% from three-point range. Against West Virginia on Friday, Morehead State finished 10-of-19 (53%).
That is definitely not something WVU wants to replicate on Sunday after Buddy Boeheim shot 7-of-10 from behind the arc by himself. As a team, Syracuse shot 15-of-27 (56%) from behind the arc.
If West Virginia is going to advance to its first Sweet 16 since 2018, it will need Culver to start a lot earlier than the second half and it will need to defend the three-point line. Forcing 18 turnovers like it did against Morehead State wouldn’t be the worst thing either, but Syracuse doesn’t turn it over at an alarming rate.
For the year, Syracuse only averages 11 turnovers per game and forces 14. It has the second-best turnover margin in the ACC at three.
I am looking forward to a revival of an always competitive Big East showdown on Sunday between WVU and Syracuse. Buckle up folks, the Mountaineers are one win away from the Sweet 16.