UPDATING THE CYCLONES
Like WVU, Iowa State has been up and down since their first meeting, but the 'Clones have fashioned three wins over the five intervening games, as opposed to West Virginia's two. That puts ISU in position to match WVU's record in the Big 12 with a win, which would continue the Mountaineers' fall down the league ladder.
Forward Georges Niang still leads ISU in scoring with 19.7 points per game, which is second only to OU's Buddy Hield. A match-up problem, Niang almost appears to be playing a slow motion old-man's game at times, but it's devastatingly effective. Backed by point guard Monte Morris, who is closing on a 5-1 career assist-to-turnover ratio, and forward Abdel Nader (13.3 ppg), the Cyclones continue to score points aplenty. They've been held under 85 only once since facing the Mountaineers the first time, and are first in the Big 12 in scoring at 83 points per game.
Also like WVU, Iowa State has been significantly affected by the absence of one of its standouts. Jameel McKay, who first showed signs of what was diagnosed as knee tendinitis late last month, was also suspended for two games earlier this month and held out of the Cyclones' win over TCU on Saturday. His importance in the lineup is underscored by ISU's recent record, as well as the fact that it is just 2-3 with him coming off the bench. Clearly, head coach Steve Prohm, who termed the TCU benching “a coach's decision” thinks there's something left to be desired in some part of McKay's behavior or approach to the game. Whether it affects the Cyclones against the Mountaineers remains to be seen.
Which team can overcome the adversity that has dragged down its play in recent contests? That's the key in Monday night's late contest.
|WVU (20-7 / 9-5) vs. ISU (19-8 / 8-6)||Mon Feb 22||9:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: ISU 5-2|
|RPI: WVU - 15 ISU - 18||TV: ESPN||Sirius/XM: 84/84|
Iowa State has the McKay issue, which it is desperately trying to avoid (there's no mention of it in their game notes, and Prohm adroitly deferred questions about him after the most recent game). WVU, with injury and frustration scarring its efforts, must put aside ancillary issues and focus on simply playing the game.
If McKay is again unavailable, Iowa State will be even more shorthanded than ever. Only seven Cyclones saw the floor against TCU, and the starters played 174 of the possible 200 minutes. That would be catnip to WVU's press, were it even a semblance of its former self. But without Jonathan Holton in the starting lineup and a paucity of guards, the Mountaineers don't appear to be well-positioned to take advantage of the short roster. ISU will fall back on its usual efficient play, which is built on accurate shooting and good ball movement, while WVU must avoid empty offensive trips in order to match points with the defensively-challenged Cyclones.
In the end, this game may come down to the team that sees the value of regular season wins and league standings. Those suggesting that WVU should rest its players and not worry about the rest of the regular season or the Big 12 tournament ignore the fact that these games will set the tone for post season play – not to mention go a long way in determining opponents in those contests. More losses equal dropping seed lines in both – and those will definitely have an effect on outcomes there as well.
The four remaining league games are critical for the teams tied for second (WVU, Baylor and Oklahoma) and fifth (Iowa State and Texas). Their finishes will determine the match-ups in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, and it's such a jumbled mess right now that laying out all the scenarios would take several pages. With a second place finish, WVU would face the winner of the 7-10 game (right now that would be Texas Tech – TCU), but the Mountaineers could also finish in the lower half of the league standings themselves.
Georges Niang is current fifth among active career scorers in Division I with 2,041 points, but league counterpart Buddy Hield is right behind him with 2,026.
Following a string of five games in which it shot at least 43% from the field, WVU has now been at 37% or lower in three of its last four contests. The Mountaineers combined total of nine steals in theirlast two games is its lowest productivity over any pair of games this year.
Iowa State has played three overtime games this year, with two of them coming in their last four contests. The Cyclones have come out on the losing end in all three of the games.