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Tigers will turn on the pressure

The second-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers and No. 10 Missouri Tigers will look to impose their will on each other when they meet in a second-round East Regional matchup.

The Mountaineers play a half-court, grind-it-out offense and can shut you down on defense. But they also have a penchant for slow starts, which they showed again Friday in the first round before routing No. 15 Morgan State, 77-50.

They better be ready to go against the Tigers, whose frenetic style coach Mike Anderson calls "The Fastest 40 Minutes In Basketball" because of his team's ability to run, pressure, force mistakes and capitalize on turnovers. They did all of that to great success in Friday's 86-78 first-round win over No. 7 Clemson.

>The Mountaineers

Missouri did a good job of taking Clemson's top scorer, Trevor Booker, out of the game. It will try to do the same thing to West Virginia swingman Da'Sean Butler. But it won't be that easy because the Mountaineers have such a diverse offense.

Case in point was Friday's win over Morgan State, which held Butler to nine points but was burned consistently by forwards Kevin Jones (17 points) and Devin Ebanks (16 points and 13 rebounds).

With West Virginia owning so many options, Missouri may struggle to stop Butler, who might be poised for his breakout tournament moment.

Darryl Bryant starts at point guard, but backup Joe Mazzulla (13 assists and one turnover in the last two games) is better at initiating the offense and he takes care of the basketball, a key against Missouri's pressure.

On defense, West Virginia could give the Tigers trouble with its exceptional athleticism and length (four starters are at least 6-foot-7), which denies shooters open looks on the perimeter.

The Mountaineers also will look to pound the glass against a poor rebounding Missouri team that allowed 18 offensive boards against Clemson.

>The Tigers

Missouri's ability to create turnovers ignites its up-tempo attack. Ranked first in the nation in steals per game, the Tigers came up with 15 more against Clemson. The Tigers scored 20 points off 20 turnovers and had 22 fast-break points. Led by defensive-minded guards J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor, Missouri didn't allow Clemson to establish a rhythm and take or make the shots it wanted.

It was no surprise to see that sophomore guard Kim English, Missouri's leading scorer, had 20 points against Clemson. But the Tigers got offense from an unexpected source in senior forward Keith Ramsey, whose first 20-point game of his career was more than 13 above his season average. Ramsey and frontcourt mate Laurence Bowers (15 points versus Clemson) get a lot of high-percentage shots when Missouri spreads the court.

Missouri needs both to stay out of foul trouble to defend West Virginia's active big men and they must hold their own as rebounders to keep the Mountaineers from getting extra shot opportunities.

>Outlook

Missouri could make things interesting by forcing turnovers and making West Virginia play faster than it would like. But the Tigers might struggle in the half court against the Mountaineers' defense. If West Virginia handles Missouri's pressure, it will be able to control the pace of the game and move on to the Sweet 16.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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