UPDATING THE WILDCATS
West Virginia sent K-State into a tailspin after its double overtime win in Manhattan, as the Cats dropped four of their next five games. They snapped out of that skid with a win over Oklahoma State at home on Saturday, however, giving them a bit of momentum as they make the long eastern trek to visit WVU on Tuesday.
Since the last meeting, the Wildcats have gotten more contributions from players such as Kamau Stokes (G, 6-0, 170 lbs.), who was the high scorer in three of the six intervening contests, and Barry Brown (G, 6-3, 195 lbs.), who hit the Mountaineers for 20 points in their first meeting. Wesley Iwundu (F, 6-7, 210 lbs.) now leads a balanced K-State scoring attack with 12.6 points per game, while six others average between 12.1 and 6.5 per outing. The lesson here is that there's not just one player that can be taken out of the game defensively to guarantee a win over the Wildcats – all seven of those can score when called upon.
The same is true on the glass, where Dean Wade (6-10, 225 lbs.), Justin Edwards (G, 6-4, 200 lbs.), D.J. Johnson (F, 6-9, 250 lbs.), Stephen Hurt (F, 6-11, 265 lbs.) and Iwundu contribute between 5.9 and 4.6 boards per outing. To combat this, West Virginia's guards will have to contribute by boxing out in the mid-lane to keep crashers from the wings out of play while the big men battle in the primary spots close to the rim.
While an NCAA tournament appearance is unlikely for K-State, it could still earn an NIT bid – but it needs to stay above .500 to do so. That will be a challenge in the brutal Big 12, but with at least 13 games left to play, it only needs four more wins to guarantee a 16-16 record, which should be good enough to achieve that goal. Stealing a win over a team it's not “expected” to defeat would give it even more wiggle room.
Just about every team goes through a down stretch when it plays below par. Is WVU past that now – or will it continue against a team that was oh-so-close to knocking the Mountaineers off earlier this year?
|WVU (16-3 / 5-2) vs. KSU (12-7 / 2-5)||Tue Jan 26||7:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 5-4|
|RPI: WVU - 15 KSU - 53||TV: ESPNNews||Sirius/XM: 119/199|
It's easy to say West Virginia should win this game, but that would be to ignore WVU's recent issues, not to mention the first contest between the two teams. In order to get the series sweep, the Mountaineers will have to get improved results in a pair of match-ups.
The first comes in the backcourt, where WVU has been somewhat out of sync in recent games. While there have been stellar performances from some players, such as that of Tarik Phillip and Jaysean Paige vs. Texas Tech, the overall flow of play from the guards has been choppy. Offensive sets haven't run smoothly, reads in the motion offense have been shaky, and hesitation in decision-making has been evident. With shooting accuracy also an up-and-down proposition, WVU can't afford to have possessions wasted with turnovers or bad shots – and the percentage of those has simply been too high in recent outings.
West Virginia's bigs must also get back on track, and much of that has to do with adjusting to the way the game is called. Devin Williams has to learn not to lower his shoulder on offense. Elijah Macon has to narrow his stance and keep his arms in on screens. Macon and Brandon Watkins can't chase shots they have no hope of blocking, which takes them out of rebounding position. And while doing so, they must square off against K-State's interior players, who are just as big and strong as they are. The style of officiating will have an impact, but whatever it is, WVU's frontcourt can't let players like Johnson and Hurt rule the lane by default -- that is, in their absence due to foul trouble.
In the end, though, this game is just like the last one -- it's a contest that West Virginia must win if it wants to stay in contention at the top of the league. That doesn't mean that the Mountaineers should be expected to win -- there's a difference there -- but with an upcoming schedule of Florida, Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas, there's just not any room left for error.
Kansas State struggles with shooting, having made just 43.3% from the field and barely 30% of its 3-point attempts. It offsets that, though, with good defense, as its opponents make just 41.8% from the field and a woeful 28.2% from long distance.
Jaysean Paige is now WVU's leading scorer at 13.6 points per game followed by Devin Williams at 13.5. Despite his backup status, Paige also now owns the team lead in field goal attempts at 177, with Jevon Carter one back at 176.
While Kansas State doesn’t get a great deal of support from its bench in terms of scoring, perhaps head coach Bruce Weber might want to look a bit more in that direction. Wildcat starters shoot 42.7% from the field, while the backups hit on 44.5% of their tries.
Eight of the nine toughest remaining schedules in the nation belong to the Big 12. K-State ranks fourth on that list.