SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
With only a pair of losses to top 25 teams marring its record, Kansas State has executed its best opening season record since 2012. The Wildcats knocked off Georgia in a true road game and downed Missouri in a neutral site contest. Whether they can keep that going in the Big 12 is another question entirely, but so far their results have exceeded expectations.
Head Coach Bruce Weber cleaned house in the off season, purging his roster of a few bad apples who had dragged his team down over the past couple of years. With ten new faces dotting his lineup, he has seen benefits just like West Virginia did a year ago, making what was looking like a total rebuilding season into one of hope. K-State has started the same five players in every game this year, and is getting contributions up and down the lineup in what has been a much more harmonious atmosphere.
At the top of the lineup, swingman Wesley Iwundu (Jr., 6-7, 210 lbs.) and guard Justin Edwards (Sr., 6-4, 200 lbs.) are neck-and-neck for scoring honors at 13.3 and 13 ppg, respectively. Both average 30 minutes per outing, with Iwundu scoring a good bit in the mid-range and at the rim while Edwards ranges the floor. Dean Wade (Fr., F, 6-10, 225 lbs.) provides double-digit scoring support at 10.8 per contest, and is one of the team's best two 3-point shooters while also tying for the team lead with 5.8 rebounds. However, as a whole, the squad makes just 29.5% of their 3-point tries, which, combined with their slower pace of play, keeps their scoring output relatively low at 73 points each time out.
Freshman guard Kamau Stokes (6-0, 170 lbs.) and senior forward Stephen Hurt (6-11, 265 lbs.) round out the starting lineup. Stokes scores 9.3 points, while Hurt adds 7.2 points and 5.3 rebounds. The duo are both below the 40% mark from the field, though, and contribute to a team-wide 42.7% mark from the field. Barry Brown (Fr., G, 6-3, 195 lbs.) and D.J. Johnson (Jr., F, 6-9, 250 lbs.) are good contributors off the bench, adding nearly 13 points and six boards per game. Along with Carlbe Ervin and Austin Budke who also get significant minutes, K-State has a nine-deep rotation that has shown unselfishness and a willingness to adapt to their roles.
Prior to the season, this game looked like a good stage-setter for the Mountaineers. It was a chance to get an early road win in the league, against a squad that was figured to be near the bottom of the conference. Now things are different, and that brings into play the rowdy atmosphere of Bramlage Coliseum, where K-State has won more than 85% of its games over the past ten years, and is an outstanding 14-5 against ranked teams over its 19 most recent meetings.
|WVU (11-1) vs. KSU (10-2)||Sat Jan 2||12:00 PM EST|
|Bramlage Coliseum||Manhattan, KS||Series: Tied 4-4|
|RPI: WVU - 39 KSU - 45||TV: ESPNU||Sirius: 145|
WVU, coming off its trip to a sold out Cassell Coliseum where it handled Virginia Tech, should be prepared, but K-State's fan base compared to Virginia Tech's is like comparing Marriott to Motel 6. The Wildcat fans know hoops, and they don't just show up occasionally, or for ranked teams. K-State attracted 12,440 and 12,548 fans for its most recent two home games, both of which occurred with its students out on break. The latter number was a sellout, and when the Wildcats get rolling, it gets wild in Manhattan.
West Virginia may also be battling injuries and soreness in the wake of the Virginia Tech win, as both Devin Williams (hand) and Jevon Carter (ankle) missed time during the contest and were iced up afterward. The Mountaineers didn't return to Morgantown after the win, instead electing to fly directly to Kansas for the contest. While that could be a bit wearing, it also allowed those players needing treatment to be with the training staff full time, and dedicate as much as possible to healing up.
Pace will also be a factor. WVU is in the upper tier of teams in that ranking, standing 90th nationally, but the more deliberate Wildcats are 251st. Again, the ability of one team to force its will on the other in this area will be important. West Virginia can't rush on its offensive end if the pace isn't to its liking – it will have to force that from the defensive end while being careful not to waste possessions. With 171 turnovers so far this year. West Virginia isn't capitalizing on its extra possessions as much as it should, and in close games that will be a difference-maker.
In a battle of top defenses, K-State is 13th nationally in scoring defense (61.5) and third in 3-point field goal percentage defense (25.3) WVU trumps those numbers slightly with a fourth-place scoring defense ranking (60.1), and a national-best 24.5% 3-point defense mark.
The Wildcats' revamped roster features seven freshmen among its ten newcomers, making it one of the most callow in Division 1. Only four Division one schools have more on their roster.
WVU's Jonathan Holton continues to put in workmanlike performances that aren't drawing a lot of attention, but which have been huge in West Virginia's early success. The senior has been an absolute beast on the offensive glass, and has 12 more rebounds there (51) than on the defensive end (39). More amazingly, he's putting up those numbers in fewer than 19 minutes per game.
With a win, WVU head coach Bob Huggins would move intor a tie with Cliff Ellis for 13th place on the list of winningest all-time Division I men's head coaches. Huggins will be looking to roll triple sevens, as he currently has 776 victories. The chance to move into the top ten is well within reach this year, as just five more victories will put him in that elite company.