UPDATING THE WILDCATS
Since defeating West Virginia at home, K-State has gone just 1-4. The win, a two-pointer over Baylor, was certainly a good one, but desultory losses to Tennessee and TCU have kept the 'Cats from making a serious NCAA bubble push. They missed another chance with a three-point setback at home against Kansas on Monday, but now have had several days to rest and recuperate for their final effort of a trio of games against highly-ranked teams. A victory over WVU would complete a 2-1 record in those contests, and set them up for a very manageable stretch run in which they would likely be favored in all but one of its remaining six league contests.
Balance continues to be the hallmark of head coach Bruce Weber's game plan, with the top six players averaging between 12.3 and 8.6 points per game. WVU must find a way to contain Wesley Iwundu (Sr., 6-7, 205 lbs.) who has hurt the Mountaineers at key points over his career. Along with big D. J. Johnson (Sr. 6-9, 225 lbs.), WVU will face an inside game that's an order of magnitude greater than what it saw against Oklahoma. Johnson and Iwundu combined for 27 points and 17 rebounds against the Mountaineers the first time out. Guard Kamau Stokes (6-0, 165 lbs.) has picked up his play since the start of the conference season, boosting his scoring average and hitting 40.7% of his 3-pointers.
K-State also continues with an iron man approach to playing time, as the top seven players get the majority of action. All five starters are tallying more minutes per game in conference play than they did in non-conference action. That might lead to the conclusion that WVU will try to wear down its foe with a deeper bench, but the Mountaineers' recent schedule, discussed next, could interfere with that.
West Virginia had very little prep time for the Wildcats – and interrupted rest as well.
|WVU (19-5 / 7-4) vs. Kansas State (16-8 / 5-6)||Sat Feb 11||12:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 6-5|
|RPI: WVU - 33 KSU - 45||TV: ESPN||Sirius/XM/SXM: 145/199/199|
Exacerbating the lateness of a 9:00 p.m. Wednesday night start at Oklahoma, the Mountaineers were delayed on both ends of the trip. WVU didn't arrive in Norman until the wee hours of the morning of the game, and were then diverted from their normal Clarksburg landing to a Pittsburgh arrival. After the longer bus trip home, WVU was left with basically a day to prep for K-State, and limited rest to boot. This game isn't the end of the tough travel sequence of the season – the Mountaineers get right back on a plane on Sunday for a Monday night game at Kansas.
All that highlights a definite angle to track – WVU's bounce, effort, and intensity. While the “revenge” factor against the Wildcats might be in play, will the Mountaineers be able to match the hard work it displayed at Oklahoma? That, as multiple WVU players note, is the real key for this team. West Virginia reportedly scaled back – at least a bit – its on-court preparation for OU, focusing on video review of both itself and the Sooners. With just 54 hours of time between its return from Norman and tip-off vs. K-State, this could be the approach to take.
WVU's offensive game plan is another item to monitor. While it has always run high-low options under head coach Bob Huggins, it has varied that with personnel, including the use of a guard at the high post, on the premise that a better passer there will improve feeds into the low blocks. It has used Daxter Miles in that role numerous times this year, but with Miles out on Wednesday, it went to a triangle look on occasions, with the three, four, and five spots screening, posting and cutting to try to get the ball inside. Nathan Adrian, of course, did very well in the passing role, but the Mountaineers were hit and miss overall on these efforts. They figure to try to take the action at Johnson and Iwundu to try to get them in foul trouble and tip the balance of the game.
WVU's ball handling and decision-making will again be tested by K-State, which is 16th nationally in steals. While the Mountaineers, who lead the nation, get lots of attention here, it's the Wildcats' performance that should be in the spotlight in this game. West Virginia can't afford to give away possessions with loose ballhandling, which it has been afflicted with in its past couple of outings.
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Fueled by Sagaba Konate, WVU is blocking more than nine percent of its opponents' shots. With 116 to date, this year's team is already tied for 16th on the single season team blocks list. At its current rate, and assuming the minimum number of remaining games (nine), it would rise to third on that list. Given a couple of more contests in both the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, the school record of 188 in 2008 could also fall.
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Over its last three games, WVU is averaging just 28.3 rebounds. That’s 8.5 below its season average.
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Kansas State's seven man rotation gobbles up almost 92% of the available minutes of game play.