We've officially reached the brutal part of the Big 12 schedule. Tonight Kansas State (12-7, 2-5, #35 KenPom) goes on the road to face the No. 9 team in the country, West Virginia at 6 p.m. on ESPNNews. Then after the Big 12/SEC challenge game vs. Ole Miss, the 'Cats travel to Lawrence for matchup against No. 4. After that, Kansas State finally gets to come home and welcomes...the No. 1 team in the nation, Oklahoma.
Know Your Opponent
West Virginia (16-3, 5-2, #7) shouldn't offer many surprises to fans or players. Not only do we knew quite well how Huggy Bear wants to play, K-State's newcomers already got a first-hand look at the physicality and aggressiveness of "Press Virginia." They actually handled it fairly well but just didn't make enough shots from beyond the arc or at the free throw line to avoid a heartbreaking 87-83 double-overtime loss in the conference opener for both teams.
West Virginia goes at least ten deep and wants to make Kansas State play fast and force turnovers, and they don't particularly care if they pick up a few fouls while doing it. In fact, the Mountaineers rank first in the NCAA in turnover percentage at 27.3 and dead last (351st) in their ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts given up (60.2).
Offensively, they're going to attack the basket with penetration and have a few big guys who can do some damage, but unlike Kansas or Oklahoma, West Virginia won't crush your defensive soul with 3-pointers. Naturally, they're also going to fight very hard on the offensive glass, as evidenced by an offensive rebound rate of 43.1 percent, ranked second in the country.
Most of the Mountaineers' strengths are energy-based, so it's no surprise they're typically dominant at home and if K-State doesn't show up ready to play, they can expect to get run out of the building. However, Texas pulled off one of the league's most shocking road wins a week ago in Morgantown, so it's not impossible.
Keep a close watch on:
Senior Jaysean Paige lit up the 'Cats for 25 in Manhattan and leads a group of four double-digit scorers with 13.6 points per game. He's probably West Virginia's best perimeter shooter, but a 37.7% rate from beyond the arc won't scare any defense that has already seen Buddy Hield, so it would be wise to focus on limiting Paige's ability to slash to the basket.
Junior Devin Williams didn't do a lot in Manhattan with just 7 points but the 6-9 forward has been a force inside with 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting better than 50% from the field.
I mentioned this some already, but West Virginia is a deep and balanced team that will pass the ball well and of course, draw a lot of fouls. Despite their crazy defense, the Mountaineers will take their time on offense to find the right shot. They shoot a fairly solid 46% from the field, but they're ninth in the Big 12 at just 65% from the free throw line. It wouldn't be a bad idea to run some zone and challenge West Virginia to hit a few outside shots.
Press Virginia mostly speaks for itself defensively, and this is probably going to be the type of game where how tight the officiating is makes a big difference. K-State will have to adjust either way and hopefully find some transition points, because West Virginia is very good in the halfcourt defense as well. They'll play mostly man and the Mountaineers lead the conference in scoring defense (64 ppg) and lead the nation in 3-point defense (28%).
F Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 210 Jr
F Dean Wade, 6-10 225 Fr
F Stephen Hurt, 6-11 265 Sr
G Justin Edwards, 6-4 200 Sr
G Kamau Stokes, 6-0 170 Fr
Jonathan Holton F , 6-7 220 Sr
F Esa Ahmad, 6-8 225 Fr
F Devin Williams, 6-19 255 Jr
G Jevon Carter, 6-2 185 So
G Daxter Miles Jr, 6-3 185 So
3 Keys To The Game
1. One and done
The top priority against a Bob Huggins team always has to be defensive rebounding. Everyone must crash the glass to limit second-chance opportunities against a big, athletic group willing to fight hard every time a shot goes up. West Virginia outrebounded K-State 43-35 in Manhattan, and most of that difference came on offensive rebounds, where the Mountaineers held a 15-9 advantage.
2. Take care of the ball
It really can't be stressed enough just how good West Virginia is at forcing turnovers. They're not afraid to put intense pressure on anyone, anywhere on the court. That means the guys who handle the ball most, like Stokes, Carlbe Ervin, Edwards and Iwundu must be prepared. Wes committed 7 of K-State's 15 turnovers vs. WVU in Manhattan, so he definitely needs to be better.
3. Make the free shots
Kansas State has been a little better this season from the free throw line, shooting 68.6% from the stripe. But the 'Cats missed 15 of 43 free throws against WVU in Manhattan and only Wes (4-4) didn't miss at least one. How much of a difference can free throws make against a team that gives up more than 28 per game? If Oklahoma had shot 65% it would have likely lost at home to the Mountaineers. Instead, the Sooners hit 27-of-32 (84.4%) and escaped with a 2-point win.
All stats by http://www.kenpom.com, or by the respective university's sports information.