Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State is buried in an unfamiliar spot — tied for last in the Big 12 — but that doesn’t mean West Virginia will have an easy time of it in Ames.
SCOUTING THE CYCLONES
Iowa State knew it would be in a rebuilding mode this year, but it has gotten some immediate help in the form of freshman Lindell Wigginton (G, 6-2, 190 lbs.) The Nova Scotia native is averaging a team best 15.9 points per game. He’s benefited from the presence of senior Donovan Jackson (6-2, 175 lbs.) who is right behind at 15.4. The duo does much of their damage from behind the arc, continuing a tradition of fine ISU sharpshooters. Both are well above 40% from that distance, and they have combined to make 110 of ISU’s 154 threes this year.
The negative for the Cyclones comes with the absence of junior guard Nick Weiler-Babb, who has battled tendinitis and is now expected to sit out this week’s games to rest. That subtracts 11.6 points, 7.0 assists and 7.1 rebounds from the ISU attack– losses that head coach Steve Prohm will try to replace with forward Zoran Talley (Jr., 6-7, 190 lbs.). He’s averaging just five points and 2.8 rebounds per contest, and will be making his first start after missing seven games earlier this year with a broken bone in his foot. The real strength up front come from youngsters Cameron Lard and Solomon Young. Lard (6-9, 225 lbs.) has been blossoming of late, and now averages 11.7 points and 7.4 rebounds, while Young supports with 6.6 and 5.8, respectively.
Past the starting five, with Weiler-Babb out, ISU’s bench looks thin. Jeff Beverly (6-6, 240 lbs.) and Hans Brase (6-9, 230 lbs.) combine for eight points and eight rebounds per game, but they have been more minutes-eaters than box score-stuffers. They might be looking at West Virginia’s backups on the front line, though, and anticipating the chance for more productivity.
ISU’s streak of six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances is in real jeopardy, and barring a streak of wins in February and March, or a win in the Big 12 Tournament, that nice run will end. There’s still much to play for, however, and there’s no sign that the Cyclones are going to mail anything in. They knocked off Baylor and Texas Tech in their two most recent league home games, and it will only take some knocked down threes against West Virginia’s meandering halfcourt defense to get the crowd into the game. ISU hasn’t shot the ball nearly as well as it has in previous years (making only 43.6% on the season), but a few successes could get the ‘Clones turned around.
Giveaway losses have turned this game from a bonus into a must win for West Virginia.
|West Virginia (16-5 / 5-3) vs. ISU (11-9 / 2-6)||Sat Jan 31 7:00 PM ET|
|Hilton Coliseum||Ames IA||Series: ISU 6-5|
|RPI: WVU – 31 ISU- 113||TV: ESPNU||Sirius/XM: 83 / 83|
The Mountaineers have tumbled out of the top 30 RPI, which is far more important than maintaining status in anyone’s Top 25, BPI, or other power ranking. WVU is still tied for second in the Big 12, but to keep pace, not to mention regain some momentum and confidence, it must win at a place that is notoriously difficult to play — at least before this year. The Cyclones have dropped four games at home already this season, and WVU also has recent success in Iowa to fall back on, as they have won on both of their last two trips.
West Virginia might need all the mental help it can get, as its state of mind has to be in question after the way it has lost games in which it held substantial leads. Had WVU been blown out in the losses, or clearly outmanned, that would be one thing, but that’s not what has happened. West Virginia has shown it can play well, and do what it needs to win. It just needs to do it more consistently, and that’s a struggle that can prove more difficult than just making shots.
Might WVU change its lineup or rotation for this game? That could be the biggest item to watch as the Mountaineers try to get out of their current doldrums. Potential items could be changing the starting lineup (Beetle Bolden? Esa Ahmad?) but those moves might cause more problems than they solve. West Virginia’s needs Bolden’s scoring coming off the bench, as it is getting very little otherwise. And is there any reason to think Ahmad will play better from the outset than he has as a substitute? Still, just shaking things up might be a jolt that could help.
With head coach Bob Huggins noting that there are players he “can’t trust”, does that portend a change in the rotation? It would seem that Huggins would be disposed to hold players out, or cut their minutes, if they are in that category, and perhaps the beginnings of that was seen against Kentucky. That could have an impact on his ability to go deeper into the bench, and to run the press full court as much as he would like. Iowa State hasn’t turned the ball over a great deal this year — its 10.8 per game rate is 50th nationally — but with Weiler-Babb out, it may be vulnerable. He had moved to point guard to help steady the Cyclones’ offense, and he responded by becoming one of the top assist dealers in the nation. With him out, West Virginia might try to dictate more against some foes that aren’t as used to handling the ball.
Iowa State has scored 1,461 points this season. It has given up exactly the same number. That might have been expected of a team that is just above the .500 mark.
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West Virginia’s recent skid has allowed North Carolina head coach Roy Williams to keep pace with Bob Huggins on the all-time Division I wins list. Huggs has 835 wins, with Williams four behind at 831. Huggins has gained one game on the North Carolina mentor this year, as the Tar Heels have dropped six games to date.
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Iowa State has three graduate transfers on its roster in Jeff Beverly, Hans Brase and Zoran Talley Jr. The only other school with three grad transfers is Seattle.
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WVU is blocking 10% of its opponents’ shot attempts per game. That is the ninth best mark in the nation.