Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers - Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa Caucuses? Storm Warnings? Pick your comparative metaphor, but the common item is that West Virginia faces what could be its most difficult match-up of the season as it travels to Iowa State to face the Cyclones.

SCOUTING THE CYCLONES

ISU had a rough patch in January, losing three of four league games, but other than that stumble has been the high-scoring, effective machine that most foresaw heading into the year. To the surprise of no one, forward Georges Niang (Sr., 6-9, 225 lbs.) leads in scoring at 19 points per game, and has continued his excellent all-around play from past seasons. Whether it’s shooting prowess (52% from the field and 84% from the line) rebounding (6.3 per) passing (66 assists), Niang is a do-it-all performer that's a tough match-up for most any defender.

Excellent support comes from junior guard Monte Morris (6-3, 175 lbs.), who likewise contributes in a variety of ways, and Energizer bunny Jameel McKay, who is a demon on the boards and defensively. Morris, a Cousy Award nominee and one of the best point guards in the country, averages 15.1 points per contest and is stellar with the ball, tallying nearly five assists for every turnover (#1 nationally) while shooting even better from the field than Niang. McKay (F, Sr., 6-9, 225 lbs.) grabs more than nine boards per game, leads the team in blocked shots and is an excellent defender and shot-changer in the paint. He's also expanded his offensive game, and feasts off conversions of offensive rebounds to average 12.7 points. There may not be a better trio in terms of the way their talents mesh on the court.

The scoring parade doesn't stop there, though. Based on excellent passing and ball movement, Iowa State has six players averaging in double figures, although one (Nazareth Mitrou-Long) is out for the season as he recovers from hip surgeries. That doesn't change the power of the ISU offense, however. The Cyclones pass the ball better than any other team in the league, and usually get very good shots – a huge contributor to their 50% shooting mark from the field as a team. Senior forward Abdel Nader (6-6, 225 lbs.) is an efficient scorer and rebounder (12.6 and 5.4 respectively), while junior guard Matt Thomas (6-4, 195 lbs.) has played well after being elevated to a starting role, recording 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds.

If there's a hole in the ISU team, it's in terms of depth, as the Cyclones depend on just seven players for the bulk of their minutes. Foul trouble has not been a particular problem for first-year head coach Steve Prohm's team, though, as his team is first nationally in foul avoidance, committing just 14.6 per game. With a rotation that's made up entirely of juniors and seniors, the Cyclones aren't going to face any situations they haven't seen before, and can be counted on to play with poise and veteran savvy.

GAME OUTLOOK

Both teams are coming off losses in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but the feelings in the camps of the two teams probably couldn't be more different.

WVU (17-4 / 6-2) vs. Iowa State 16-5 / 5-3) Tue Feb 2 9:00 PM EST
Hilton Coliseum Ames, IA Series: ISU 5-1
RPI: WVU - 14 ISU - 11 TV: ESPN2 Sirius/XM: 84/84

Even though ISU fell short in the late stages of its game at fifth-ranked Texas A&M, it competed well on the road, and has had time to overcome the loss of Mitrou-Long. WVU, which was clearly affected by the absence of the suspended Jonathan Holton, hasn’t had a great deal of time to do the same, and in reality probably can’t. By the time any substantive changes were made (assuming that any which fit the team could be implemented), Holton will presumably be back, which would just mean another transition.

West Virginia is faced with the very difficult task of figuring out how to score enough to top the potent Cyclones. ISU is 14-0 when holding opponents under 80 points this year, and while WVU is third in the nation in points allowed per possession at .877, it’s tough to see the Mountaineers stifling ISU offensively. That means they must get more offensive production that that provided by backup guards Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip. Devin Williams, who had a quiet double-double in the loss to Florida, must produce, but players such as Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter have to get back to the production levels they showed earlier this year, and Nathan Adrian will need to continue the solid play he has shown in his two recent starting assignments. It’s a lot to ask, but all, or at least the majority, of these things have to happen for WVU to get to the scoring level it will need to get the road win.

In many ways, this is probably the toughest league match-up for WVU. ISU passes the ball so well, and has so many different ballhandling and scoring options, that it’s difficult for WVU to generate action off its press. While the Cyclones did commit a total of 34 turnovers in the two games against WVU last year, the Mountaineers managed just 24 points from them, and as a result were unable to come up with a win in either. Of further bad note, West Virginia committed 28 giveaways of its own, including an ugly 19 in a 20-point blowout loss on the road. It will have to keep that number around 10 to have a chance to get back on the winning side of the ledger.

PRESS POINTS

West Virginia bumped up its departure schedule to beat winter storm Kayla, which is predicted to hit Iowa with up to a foot of snow on Tuesday. That move may have also allowed to it avoid the enormous blasts of hot air emanating from the political campaigning around the Iowa caucuses.


Iowa State has wins over top-ranked Oklahoma, No. 5 Iowa and No. 7 Kansas in the AP poll. That has helped boost the Cyclones into a tie with the Jayhawks for a nation's best 21 wins over Top 25 teams in the last three seasons.


Officiating, and its effect on WVU’s play, has been a hot topic of debate this year, but one statistic at least indicates it’s not a huge factor. In its 17 wins, WVU foes have gotten 28.2 free throw attempts per game, but in its four losses that number is almost identical (28.3).


Since missing the Oklahoma State game due to injury, Daxter Miles has averaged just six points per game, and has made just 11 of his 49 shot attempts, including five of 24 from 3-point distance. While Bob Huggins’ tactic of bringing Phillip and Paige off the bench for an offensive boost has worked well for much of the year, this may be the time to move one of them to the starting lineup to help cover for the loss of Holton, and perhaps give Miles a different view of the game.


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