Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Kansas State Wildcats

Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Kansas State Wildcats


Both WVU and K-State got off to successful league starts, and closed 2017, with road wins. Now they clash on the first day of the new year with the prize of a 2-0 Big 12 record up for grabs.

SCOUTING THE WILDCATS

Kansas State went through its non-conference slate with a pair of losses to Arizona State and Tulsa. The former didn’t hurt, given the Sun Devils’ play so far this year, but the loss to the Golden Hurricane was one that could linger. The Cats scored just 54 points in that contest, but do have road wins over Vanderbilt, Washington State and Iowa State offsetting that one stumble. Like most every team in the Big 12, this squad has the potential to be an NCAA tournament team, and holding serve in games like this home contest against WVU will be the determining factor in whether it reaches that level.

A trio of juniors form the nucleus of this year’s squad. Barry Brown (G, 6-3, 195 lbs.), Kamau Stokes (G, 6-0, 170 lbs.) and Dean Wade (F, 6-10 230 lbs.) each average 14 points per game. Wade is the most versatile of the three, making 60.7% of his field goal tries, including 14-31 from beyond the arc. He’s also the top man on the boards at 6.5 per outing, and is solid with the ball, boasting a nearly 3-1 assist-to-turnover average. That makes him a tough defensive match-up for WVU, which will likely send Wesley Harris at him in the early stages of the game.

Stokes makes 45.3% of his 3-pointers, while Brown is a volume shooter, taking more attempts than anyone else on the team. His accuracy isn’t quite that of Stokes or Wade, but he capitalizes on chances at the free throw line (83%).

Rounding out the starting lineup is sophomore forward Xavier Sneed (6-5, 210 lbs.), who adds 11.4 points, and sophomore Mako Mawien (6-9, 225 lbs.) who is part of a three-man rotation inside. Foul trouble has been at issue at that position, with Maiwen averaging three  in just 18 minutes of action per game.

Kansas State doesn’t have the big inside presence it had in years past, and is relying on balanced scoring from the perimeter and the all-around versatility of Wade. It demonstrated that in the road win at Iowa State, which remains a very difficult place to play. When the Wildcats get cranked up at home, Bramlage Coliseum is its equal in terms of atmosphere, making this a tougher challenge for WVU than Friday’s win at Oklahoma State.

GAME OUTLOOK

Both teams are guard- and forward- oriented, but that could make play in the lane an important item to track in the New Year’s Day clash.

WVU (12-1) vs. KSU (11-2) Monday January 1 5:00 PM ET
Bramlage Coliseum Manhattan, KS Series: WVU 6-5
RPI: WVU – 28 KSU- 80 TV: AT&T Sportsnet Sirius/XM: 134 / 199
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WVU’s Sagaba Konate has continued to show improved offensive skills during his sophomore season, and if he can stay on the court that could be a big advantage for WVU. That has been a problem for him, though, just as it has been for K-State’s Maiwen and Levi Stockard III. Konate should be able to hit double figures if he can get 25 minutes on the floor, and coupled with WVU’s different methods of attacking in the post, that could be an area where the Mountaineers hold an advantage. West Virginia’s offensive rebounding has helped the Mountaineers average 40.8 per game this year, a plus seven advantage over K-State’s 33.8 mark. That’s also a margin that has to hold if  they are to escape the Octagon of Doom with a win.

Kansas State counters with good ballhandling — the Cats are 41st nationally with 16.5 assists per game, and move the ball effectively to find open shooters and create driving room from the perimeter. They also yield just 10.6 turnovers per outing, making a very good match-up against West Virginia’s pressure.  One thing to keep in mind here — WVU hasn’t been quite as good in the full court press against quality foes as it has been in past seasons. WVU has had to drop out of the press at times this year, but has done well for the most part in still getting pressure on the ball in the halfcourt and forcing turnovers. That sets up a good battle in this game — can West Virginia disrupt K-State’s offensive rhythm and take the Wildcats out of their passing game? Or does the home team continue to execute well and create the good looks that has allowed them to hit nearly 49% of their shots to date? They did that and more against Iowa State, making 55.2% from the field in the 91-75 win.

One of head coach Bob Huggins’ keys to defense is taking away what the opponent does best, or limiting it top offensive threat. K-State, with the trio of Brown, Stokes and Wade, has a well-established pattern of success. If those three play well, as they have most of the year, the Wildcats have a good chance of winning. WVU will obviously try to hold them all down, but one key will be to prevent the ball from getting to Wade, and certainly in not allowing him open jumpers. Pressure on the ball, and denial of passes to him as me moves through the offense, will be critical to WVU’s success.


PRESS POINTS

Kansas State has been o.k. on the defensive end, although some of the numbers are influenced by the pace at which it plays and the level of competition in some of its non-conference contests. The Cats allow only 63.2 points per contest (20th nationally) and are holding opponents to just 39% shooting from the field.

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West Virginia’s excellent performance at the free throw line in the Oklahoma State win lifted its current percentage to 73.7%. That’s 91st out of the 351 Division I NCAA teams.

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Many players get steals with interceptions of passes. Jevon Carter probably gets more my simply taking the ball away from his opponent. That’s not necessarily a revelation, but it’s something that doesn’t get enough attention, even as he leads the nation in steals with 3.77 per game. How many of Carter’s steals are the result of him simply taking the ball out of the hands of his opponent, or tipping the ball away on the dribble and immediately gaining possession of it? This isn’t something that’s tracked, but it’s something that might be dubbed a “clean steal” — a one-on-one defensive play where the ball is taken away without a scrum or a loose ball scramble. Carter’s ability to do so, his anticipation of where an opponent will hold the ball or move with it, are almost preternatural.