NCAA Tournament Preview East Region - First Round (5) West Virginia vs. (12) Clemson/UAB winner
Thursday, March 17 – 12:25 PM ET
West Virginia will play the winner of the inaugural First Four play-in game at Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida on Thursday. Clemson and UAB will play their game in Dayton, Ohio, tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. West Virginia was 11-7 in the Big East this season, and lost to Marquette in the opening round of the Big East Tournament on March 9. Clemson was 9-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season and lost to North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament on Saturday. UAB, 12-4 in Conference USA this past season, lost to East Carolina in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament on March 10.
West Virginia is 24-23 all-time in the NCAA tournament in 23 appearances. This is its third trip to the tournament under Bob Huggins, in his fourth year; last year, Huggins’s Mountaineers lost in the national semifinals to eventual champion Duke.
The Mountaineers average 69.5 points per game, shooting 42.7 percent. They are led by senior guard Casey Mitchell with 14.1 points, junior forward Kevin Jones with 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds, and junior guard Darryl Bryant with 10.9 points per game. If UAB is the opponent, West Virginia will definitely want to play at a snail’s pace. UAB loves to run and gun in the open court, so the Mountaineers will want to play a grinding kind of game that will force an undisciplined UAB roster to play 35 seconds of defense on a regular basis.
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Clemson has made 10 NCAA tournament appearances and have an 8-10 record all-time in the land of Bracketville. The Tigers’ last appearance was in 2010, and their last win came in 1997 when Rick Barnes took the Tigers to the Sweet 16 for the second time (and nearly made the Elite Eight; Clemson lost to Minnesota in an overtime thriller, falling just short of the regional finals). Clemson reached the Elite 8 in 1980, but couldn’t push that last stone which blocked the road to the Final Four.
First year coach Brad Brownell led the Tigers to a fourth seed in the ACC Tournament by defeating Virginia Tech in the regular season finale. Clemson powered past Boston College in the ACC quarterfinals and dominated North Carolina in the tournament semifinals… for 36 minutes. The Tigers became tentative at crunch time and forfeited a late six-point lead. Brownell’s boys lost to the Tar Heels in overtime, but still showed how well it could play. Clemson shot 50 percent for the game, including 12 of 24 3-pointers, sending a message to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee that it was worthy of inclusion in the field of 68. Just barely, that turned out to be true. The Tigers are led by senior guard Demontez Stitt with 14.7 points, and senior forward Jerai Grant with 12.1 points per game.
UAB is making its 14th appearance in the tournament, and is 9-13 all-time. The Blazers have reached the Elite 8 once and – more recently – made their way to the Sweet 16 in 2004. This is coach Mike Davis's first trip to the tournament with the Blazers. It’s a trip many observers felt the team shouldn’t have received after it crashed out of the C-USA Tournament in typically early fashion. UAB’s only win of significance this season came against Virginia Commonwealth. A high RPI of 31 is what got the Blazers into the Dance, prompting legitimate cries for the RPI system to be scrapped in favor of better metrics for team assessment and evaluation.
UAB is led by senior guard Jamarr Sanders with 17.7 points, junior forward Cameron Moore with 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds, and senior guard Aaron Johnson with 12 points and 7.7 assists per game. Those three men – Sanders, Moore and Johnson – will really need to prove themselves not only against Clemson, but also against West Virginia, in order to validate the Blazers’ place in March Madness this season.