That will start with a solid game from Esa Ahmad, who has been as up and down as any player for the Mountaineers this season. Ahmad had a team-best five assists in the Big 12 Championship title game against Iowa State, while also turning the ball over a game-high five times. Since the sophomore recovered form back spasms that held him out against Texas, TCU and Baylor, he has both returned to form in some games and struggled in others. And that big play ability, in conjunction with his struggles, has made for an enigma for head coach Bob Huggins.
Does he play the forward for extended, or hold him out? Every game has been a feeling out process for both Ahmad and Huggins, and much like Dax Miles one wonders exactly which performance will emerge in a given contest. Ahmad has typically been at his best when WVU could spread the floor offensively and get him lanes to the bucket. That's allowed him to either pressure the basket, or take step-in shots when defenders sag off to protect the rim.
"Stay on the boards, rebound and be aggressive," Ahmad said of his approach against Bucknell. "I don't think anything has changed. I went out with a back injury and that set me back. I think it's all still there."
West Virginia will need it. Bucknell (26-8), regular and postseason champs of the Patriot League, have the offensive firepower to stay with the Mountaineers. Ahmad must hit the glass hard and play within himself offensively, reining in the desire to at times do far more than needed and of which he is capable.
"They are a very good team with a good big man and good guards who can all shoot the ball," said Ahmad, who averages 11.2 points per game, second behind Jevon Carter's 13.1, and 4.2 rebounds. "Stick with what we do and stay on the boards. It's a new year. We don't want to focus on the past."
If the questions on the interior start with Ahmad, they ends with Lamont West on the back end of the rotation. Since West lit up Texas for a career-high 23 points via six three-pointers, he's cooled considerably. The redshirt freshman is just 1-for-14 from three-point range over the last six games, and without his offense, is too much of a defensive liability of now to play in extended stretches. West's minutes have dwindled along with his production, as the 6-8 shooter has averaged just eight minutes in the last four games after playing more than 18 per game on average in the previous eight games. West will get his chances against the Bison today, but will be on the proverbial short leash.
"Play my game," West said. "Not force shots up. Not rush shots. Just play my game."