West Virginia’s second conference loss to Kansas State was a wake-up call for the 12th-ranked Mountaineers.
After getting a pair of big wins at home, WVU headed back out to Kansas, the state which handed them their first Big 12 loss, only to struggle and take their second conference loss against Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats, 84-68.
“We weren’t ready to play, and they just — they dominated us,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins after the loss.
The Mountaineers get their first chance at revenge on Saturday when the Wildcats arrive at the WVU Coliseum for a rematch of their first contest. Not only are they hoping to get back at K-State, but they are also hoping to return to the win column after dropping a tough one to Texas Tech on Wednesday.
Similar detriments plagued the Mountaineers in each loss. For one, they were on the road, which with a 3-4 record in away games, is where all of their defeats have come. Luckily, they will be home for this one, a place in which they are much more comfortable with a 10-0 record at the Coliseum.
The Mountaineers have been a significantly different team in their wins and losses. In their wins, they’ve shot the ball better (44.8 percent to 38.9), rebound better (they win the rebound margin by +10.2 in wins, but just +2 in losses) and keep their opponents off the free throw line (opponents get 19.5 free throws in WVU’s wins, but 28.5 in losses).
Kansas State presents an extra challenge for the Mountaineers: ball security. One of the biggest stains on West Virginia’s stat sheet in their loss to the Wildcats was their 18 turnovers. Kansas State, who led (and still leads) the Big 12 in steals, then turned those into 29 points. WVU likewise has given up 14.6 turnovers per game, the most in the Big 12 — although they have kept that number at 11 for their last two games.
Here are some more things to look out for on Saturday:
“We’ve gotta make shots”
West Virginia’s aforementioned shooting woes in losses is of particular concern for Huggins. According to him, his team makes fewer than 40 percent of their uncontested shots, and just a quarter of their catch-and-shoot opportunities.
“Now you want to know why we’ve lost four? We can’t shoot,” he said.
There are several possible factors at play in that number, one of which is the team’s passing. Huggins has harped on the Mountaineers’ passing since before the season tipped off, and at this point in the season, he says it negatively affects their shooting ability.
“I mean, if you’ve got to field it off your ankles, you’re probably not gonna make it,” he said. “If you’ve got to jump to field it and then come back down and get yourself together again, you’re probably gonna get covered up.”
But, they have shown promise in their shooting performances — at least individually. Oscar Tshiebwe leads the team with a 60 percent field goal percentage (although, you could probably count his attempted jump shots on one hand). Miles McBride leads the team from three, draining 40 percent, with Sean McNeil right behind him at 35 percent.
The ability is there, it’s just about putting it all together.
Scouting the Wildcats
It will be exactly two weeks since the two squads last met in Manhattan, and Huggins doesn’t expect to see a lot of change in the Wildcats’ play.
“They’re gonna play really hard, they do a great job defending, and we’ve got to guard them,” Huggins said. “We’ve got to do a better job of guarding them than what we did there.”
Cartier Diarra was the biggest thorn in the Mountaineers’ side, tying his career high with 25 points on 57 percent shooting. In the three games since, he has hit double figures twice, but hasn’t quite cracked a 40 percent clip or better.
Diarra’s scoring performances since the first meeting are somewhat of a microcosm of K-State’s offensive game in those three contests. The Wildcats have dipped to make just 37 percent of their shots in that span, where they’ve taken two losses and a win.
The Mountaineers are once again entering this matchup with a big advantage on the boards, and will look to make up for their poor rebounding performance against Texas Tech. The Mountaineers still lead the conference in rebounding, grabbing 41.35 boards per game. Kansas State, on the other hand, gets only 33.95 — leading only Texas in that category.
Where to watch
If you’re not heading to the Coliseum for this Big 12 clash, it will be broadcast on ESPN2 and streamed live on the WatchESPN app beginning at the 2 p.m. tip. WV Illustrated will also have live coverage on our site and on social media, so be sure to check WVIllustrated.com for insight and analysis on the game.