Reese Strickland/USA Today

SCOUT-ing: West Virginia Mountaineers - Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State has overcome some early conference losses to move into a tie for third in the Big 12 standings. That sets up a tiebreaker battle for the spot as West Virginia heads to Cyclone country for a late Tuesday night showdown.

SCOUTING THE CYCLONES

 West Virginia's opposition goes from the paint to the perimeter as the Mountaineers move on from Texas A&M to Iowa State. The Cyclones, with a four-guard, all-senior starting five, score consistently from the outside, but put together a team approach to rebounding that keeps them at least competitive on the glass. ISU's rebounding margin shows a deficit of less than one per game.

Monte Morris (6-3, 175 lbs.) leads the parade of solid scorers at 16.4 points per game, but is an all-around performer who keeps the ball moving. He deals out nearly six assists per contest, and still finds time to get to the boards for 4.8 rebounds. Naz Mitrou-Long (6-4, 205 lbs.) is next at 15.3 points and an identical rebounding average, and is deadly from outside with 211 career 3-pointers. Physical Deonte Burton (6-5, 250 lbs.) leads the team in rebounding (6.9) and is third in scoring (13.7), while sniper Matt Thomas (6-5, 195 lbs.) rounds out a versatile group with 11.9 points and a current team career best 214 threes.

Forward Merrill Holden (6-8, 225 lbs.) is a cleanup guy, averaging 3.1 points and 2.7 board per game. He's backed by yet another senior, Darrell Bowie (6-8, 220 lbs.) who comes off the bench to contribute 6.7 and 4.7, respectively. Guards Donovan Jackson (6-2, 175 lbs.) and Nick Weiler-Babb (6-5, 205 lbs.) are the primary subs (and only non-seniors) in the top eight, and add a combined 10.6 points and 5.1 rebounds to the ISU cause.

With six players who are very good 3-point threats, Iowa State looks to spread the floor and make the defense fan out to cover every inch of the line. That, in turn, opens up driving lanes, which the Cyclones aren't hesitant to exploit. Despite their guard-oriented approach, they have still taken 41 more free throws than their foes, showing their ability to drive the ball and create contact. Their senior leadership can't be overlooked either, and is a main reason why they are back in the fight after some close losses.

GAME OUTLOOK

West Virginia has an opportunity to get on a roll in Big 12 play, but to do so it must navigate the second toughest road environment in the league.

WVU (17-4 / 5-3) vs. Iowa State (13-7 / 5-3) Tue Jan 31 9:00 PM EST
Hilton Coliseum Ames, IA Series: ISU 5-3
RPI: WVU - 28 ISU - 36 TV: ESPN2 Sirius/XM/SXM: 84/84/84

Looking ahead (yes, we know we aren't supposed to do that), West Virginia has a manageable schedule following the ISU game. The Mountaineers host Oklahoma State and Kansas State around a visit to Oklahoma, and although they lost to the latter two in the first trip around the league, there's no reason they can't win on the rebound. If they can find a way to pull off a victory in Ames, they could fortify their grip on third place in the Big 12 and set themselves up for a stretch run that could push them higher.

While WVU is in the top ten and ISU is in the barely receiving votes category, both teams are at 5-3 in the league. That makes this a pivotal game, although certainly not the last one for either team this year. There’s a clash of steals and ball security in the making, as both teams excel at taking the ball away and, for the most part, protecting it against similar efforts. While WVU remains first nationally with 11.8 steals per game, ISU is right in the hunt with 8.5 (12th). The Mountaineers have slipped a bit in the giveaway category, and now stand 41st nationally with 11.7 turnovers per game, while the Cyclones are seventh with just 10.1. Both teams are even better in this metric when pace of play is factored in, as WVU is ninth nationally in turnovers per play while ISU is second. No matter how you slice it, the analysis here is clear: meld these two figures, and the team that comes out on the plus side will very likely be the winner.

Iowa State will also be in home court defense mode, and is facing a critical point in its season. It travels to Kansas on Saturday, where it will be an underdog, so it needs a win over WVU to avoid a potential three-game losing streak. It’s tough to call this desperation mode at this point for ISU, but two more losses would put it at 5-5 in the league, and in a dogfight as the second half of the conference schedule gets underway. There’s also the tendency, which WVU must avoid, of writing off some road losses as inevitable. Does that affect effort? If so, there’s little chance of a Mountaineer win, as they will need every bit of attention and focus to blunt the impact of ISU's huge homecourt advantage.

PRESS POINTS

Jevon Carter has led West Virginia in rebounds in each of the last four games, and is averaging 9.5 per contest over that span. When asked about the factors that contribute to that stat, he said "I guess the ball just likes me." More likely, the ball likes the way he never stops going after it. Carter is now tied for second, with Esa Ahmad, in WVU rebounding with 4.5 per game.

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Iowa State's last two wins are over teams that West Virginia has lost to – Oklahoma and Kansas State. The Clones dropped their SEC/Big 12 Challenge game against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

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Drives to the basket are almost always good things, and Bob Huggins says that guard Teyvon Myers Myers is one of WVU's best at it. However, there's been a tendency to force things there of late. Also, Myers is shooting better from the 3-point line (47.8%) than he is from inside it (42.8%). That doesn't mean he should start firing up long range shots indiscriminately, but he shouldn't let opportunities pass him by either.

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While Iowa State does have seven losses, three of those are to teams ranked in the Top 10, and another in the Top 20. Three defeats (Gonzaga, Baylor and Cincinnati) have come by a combined total of five points.


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