Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Kansas State Wildcats
West Virginia begins its second trip around the Big 12 mired in the middle of the league pack, and facing huge questions about its commitment and intensity.
UPDATING THE WILDCATS
Since losing at home to WVU on New Year’s Day, Kansas State has gone 5-3. The losses have all come to ranked teams (Texas Tech and Kansas twice), but the Cats also have wins over ranked Oklahoma and TCU. In the Big 12/SEC Challenge, they upheld their end with a win over Georgia, and despite the pair of losses to their in-state rivals, appear to be playing better than they were when the Mountaineers defeated them in Manhattan. Prior to their Big Monday loss to Kansas, K-State had won four games in a row.
Barry Brown (G, Jr., 6-3, 195 lbs.) and Dean Wade (F, Jr., 6-10, 230 lbs.) have emerged as scoring leaders in the absence of Kamau Stokes, who suffered a foot injury in the game following the Mountaineer contest. Stokes has missed all seven games since then, but was termed “hopeful” for a return against WVU. He was averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 assists per game when he went down.
In light of recent West Virginia experiences, that return might not be an automatic improvement. Freshman Cartier Diarra (6-4, 190 lbs.) hasn’t put up big numbers, but he has provided steady play at the point and gotten the ball to Brown, Wade and Xavier Sneed, who average, 17, 16.4 and 11 points per game respective as Cat double-digit scorers. Might trying to fold Stokes back in upset the better play that K-State has seen since the first week of January?
Given its current RPI, K-State is an NCAA bubble team at best at the moment. It has plenty of chances remaining to improve that standing, with Saturday afternoon’s road game at WVU the first of those.Four more league wins would get it to a .500 Big 12 record and 20 regular season wins, and although those aren’t magic numbers or automatic qualifiers, they would result in strong consideration for a bit. That makes this game an important one for Bruce Weber’s team, as it has just four home league contests remaining.
Scouting reports take a back seat to “worrying about what we do”, in the parlance of WVU head coach Bob Huggins.
|West Virginia (16-6 / 5-4) vs. KSU (16-6 / 5-4)||Sat Feb 3 4:00 PM ET|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 9-5|
|RPI: WVU – 33 KSU- 62||TV: ESPNU||Sirius/XM: 81 / 81|
In the two days since the loss to Iowa State, have the Mountaineers showed what Huggins wants to see in terms of practice habits and effort? That’s the biggest factor for West Virginia, which has become a disspirited lot over the past week. Body language in the Iowa State game was bad, and progressed to terrible as the Cyclones turned a mid-first half tie into a commanding lead that it never relinquished.
Hidden in the defensive calamity, though, was at least one encouraging sign. West Virginia’s offense, which had suffered through what might kindly be termed as doldrums, was much better. Beetle Bolden, Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad and Jevon Carter were effective for different stretches, and four players scoring well usually means a West Virginia win. WVU didn’t record a great shooting percentage, but 77 points is usually enough for a win under Huggins. The Mountaineers will need to keep building on that effort while figuring out the best way to change its defensive approach.
There’s also the health issue to take into account. Daxter Miles’ absence against Iowa State was pointed out as a problem by Huggins, even though he has also been the target of some inferred criticism for his approach to the game. He can still help defensive and on the boards, even if he doesn’t make shots, but at some point a few of those have to start falling, don’t they? Whether he makes it back to action for this game, along with at least two other members of the Mountaineer program who were also hampered by the flu, will be a game day, and likely a game time, decision.
A final item to watch: What will the atmosphere in the Coliseum be like? The 15-1 start buoyed expectations and hopes, but after consecutive home collapses it might be more of a wary, rather than a raucous, crowd that greets the Mountaineers. A good start, or at least spirited play, would be a big help in getting the home court advantage reenergized.
Since the Texas Tech game, Lamont West is 9-34 from the field, including 6-20 from three. He’s not alone, though. Chase Harler is 2-7 (all threes). Teddy Allen is 3-17, and Miles is 17-51 (4-26 from three).
* * * * * *
K-State’s Brown and Wade are averaging 21.2 and 20.2 points per game in Big 12 play, which ranks second and third,
respectively, among all league layers. They are two of only four league players (along with Oklahoma’s Trae Young (33.7 ppg.) and Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans (20.1 ppg.) who are averaging 20 points or more points per conference game this year.
* * * * * *
West Virginia senior Daxter Miles, Jr., and K-State junior Kamau Stokes both hail from Baltimore and attended Dunbar High School together for one year in 2012-13. The tandem of Miles and Stokes helped Dunbar to a 26-2 record and a Class 1A state championship and Baltimore City title.
* * * * * *
The biggest deficit that Kansas State has rallied from to record a win this year is eight points. Thus, getting out to another double-digit lead might not be a bad thing for the Mountaineers, as it has in three of its recent defeats.