West Virginia vs. Iowa State: Three Key StorylinesPosted by Brian Goodman on February 26th, 2014
Among college basketball’s top teams, this week has been a quiet one. We’ve seen Kansas clinch its 10th straight league title and Florida escape another close call against an inferior team, but otherwise, the slate at the top has been a little dry. The same can’t be said for bubble teams like West Virginia, however, where every game down the stretch is hugely important as the Mountaineers try to inch closer to scoring an NCAA Tournament bid this season. The Mountaineers have dropped three of their last four contests, but in the Big 12, another good opportunity is always just around the corner. Tonight, the Mountaineers head on the road to face Iowa State, a team that is safely in the field of 68, but would like to tighten its chances of locking down a protected seed. Here are the three biggest storylines to keep in mind as you get ready for tonight’s battle in Ames.
- West Virginia Looks to Sweep: On February 10, the Mountaineers humiliated the Cyclones by 25 points in Iowa State’s worst loss to a conference opponent in three years. The game got chippy at the end when West Virginia guard Eron Harris threw a punch at Iowa State guard Monte Morris and Cyclones forward Dustin Hogue kicked Kevin Noreen in mid-air while trying to secure a rebound. In terms of coverage, the incident obscured the fact that the Mountaineers, one of the Big 12’s worst defensive teams, held Iowa State to 36 percent shooting, locking them down from both inside and out. A sweep of the Cyclones wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a bid for the Mountaineers, but it would be a major step in the right direction.
- Live by the Three, Die by the Three? Not Quite: The Cyclones have a reputation as shooters, and to a point, it’s true; all seven of their regulars have shot at least 50 three-pointers, and just two of those players (Hogue and Morris) shoot worse than 33 percent from distance. But painting them with such a broad brush is a dangerous proposition, because Iowa State is 21-5 despite being the worst three-point shooting team in the Big 12 in conference play. They’ve connected on just 30.8 percent of their attempts against league opponents, but are still tied for second place in the standings. S o while Iowa State is vulnerable when it doesn’t hit its threes (they’ve shot 27 percent in their five Big 12 losses), the same can be said for every team. Most nights, the Cyclones offense still gets it done with a high tempo that fosters a ton of creativity, whether it’s initiated by a match-up nightmare like Georges Niang or a bulldog point guard like DeAndre Kane.
- Juwan Staten’s Big 12 POY Case: There might not be a conference this season with more of a wide-open race for Player Of The Year honors than the Big 12. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim all have great cases for the award. Wiggins may be pushing ahead of the pack right now, but there’s a legitimate case for Juwan Staten despite the fact that he plays for a team firmly on the bubble. He’s played 92.9 percent of available minutes for Bob Huggins this season, and he has been a constant headache for opposing defenses. Staten lit up the Cyclones in their last meeting, going for 19 points, seven rebounds and nine assists against just one turnover, so it will be interesting to see how he follows up that performance.