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SCOUT-ing: West Virginia Mountaineers - Iowa State Cyclones

West Virginia can lock up the number two seed in the Big 12 Championship with a win at home over Iowa State on Friday.

UPDATING THE CYCLONES

Since West Virginia's win in Ames on Jan. 31, the Cyclones have been on a tear, winning seven of their last eight games. Included in that was a win at Kansas, with the string only marred by a two-point loss to Texas. The streak has put ISU in position to snatch the #2 seed in the Big 12 Championship with a win in this regular season finale.

Monte Morris (6-3, 175 lbs.) continues to be the focal point of the ISU attack. With just one turnover in every 46.5 minutes of Big 12 action, he is absolutely stellar with the ball. His microscopic turnover rate has put him first in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 6.2–1, and he also leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game. He’s ably supported by Naz Mitrou-Long (6-4, 205 lbs.) with 15.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, and physical Deonte Burton (6-5, 250 lbs.), who checks in with 14.3 and 6.4, respectively.

ISU remains a team that doesn’t overwhelm with height, but that spreads the floor to score and also rebounds up and down the lineup. Four starters average between four and 6.4 rebounds per outing, with new starter Solomon Young (6-8, 240 lbs.) and top backup Nick Weiler-Babb (6-5, 205 lbs.) adding 3.6 and 3.1 respectively. Young, an addition to the starting lineup since the WVU game, has been strong inside, and is averaging 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in that role.

GAME OUTLOOK

West Virginia's defense will be tested by the spread tactics of the ISU offense and the outstanding ball handling of Morris in the regular season finale.

WVU (17-4 / 5-3) vs. Iowa State (13-7 / 5-3) Fri Mar 3 7:00 PM EST
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: ISU 5-4
RPI: WVU - 24 ISU - 28 TV: ESPN Sirius/XM/SXM: 84/84/84

The Cyclones are at their best when spreading defenses out and moving the ball from side to side. In forcing the defense to cover the entire width of the floor, they can create open shots, although usually of the jumper variety. If they are on in this regard, they are very difficult to beat. The spread also can help create driving lanes and paths to the interior, which WVU must cut down. Watch the way in which West Virginia closes out on shooters, and if the defenders are under control as they do so. If they can rotate quickly enough to contest shots, but still be able to keep balance and good defensive position to react to drives, they can stifle the most effective part of the ISU attack.

The defensive rebounding angle has been covered extensively here, but WVU simply has to improve. That can be a challenge against offenses the use the entire width of the floor as the Cyclones do, but that can't be used as an excuse. To address the other recent shortcoming – shooting – the Mountaineers must get more shots in transition, preferably lay-ups. Those can come (again) from good defensive rebounding, but also from turnovers. That will be a huge challenge against Morris, so watch for the Mountaineers to double team him at every chance to try to force him to give the ball up to less skilled passers and dribblers.

It's also Senior Day for WVU, and inevitably there will be the story lines of “winning for the seniors”. While there will certainly be some emotions on this evening, there's no guarantee that they will automatically benefit the home team. WVU's senior corps of Nathan Adrian, Tarik Phillip, Teyvon Myers, Brandon Watkins and James Long will need to keep those feelings in check, or at least regroup after the pre-game ceremony, in order to help WVU avoid another slow start.

PRESS POINTS

Morris isn’t the only ISU player who protects the ball. As a team, the Cyclones average just ten turnovers per game, which is the fifth-best mark in the nation.

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After scoring honors were spread across the team for much of the early schedule, Jevon Carter has assumed control of late. The junior guard has been West Virginia’s high-point man in five of the last six games.

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Iowa State has five left-handed players on its roster, including starters Deonte Burton and Naz Mitrou-Long.

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More fans have already seen WVU play at home this year than in any other season in Mountaineer history. With one game to go, that total stands at 190,214, and it will push past the 200,000 mark with tonight’s sellout crowd. That number will be on the strength of 18 home games, tied for second most in WVU history.

WVU’s average home attendance is 11,189 this year, currently fourth on the all-time list. Only an overflow crowd of more than 14,000 would allow it to move into third place.


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