Last season was filled with disappointing losses for West Virginia men’s basketball. If you ask the Mountaineers, they would probably tell you that all of the losses that year were a disappointment — but there is one out of the 21 that sticks out in particular, and it occurred in their last visit with the Kansas State Wildcats.
To take a quick trip down memory lane, West Virginia began their conference slate with a pair of single-digit losses before heading to Manhattan. They would head to the locker room at halftime with a 15-point lead, only for them to allow it to gradually dwindle in the second half until finally losing it in the final minutes.
Losing like that stings hard, but there was a silver lining. Coach Bob Huggins got a 17-point, 12-board contribution from a freshman named Derek Culver, who was playing in just his fifth game in the Old Gold and Blue. Even with his inexperience, Huggins would say that the young forward was “carrying” his teammates.
Fast-forward to this season, and the figurative load of the now-sophomore Culver is significantly lighter to carry. With additions and improvements coming at nearly every corner of the roster, the Mountaineers are more of a collective than they were a year ago.
“We just keep throwing numbers at people,” Huggins said on this week’s episode of The Bob Huggins Show. “I don’t think there are many people who have twelve guys that can play as consistently as we play our guys.”
To continue that seeming role reversal, the Wildcats have begun their 2020 Big 12 slate on a losing streak. Bruce Weber has struggled to find players to fill the voids left by the departures of last season’s top three scorers, as Xavier Sneed is the only Wildcat who averaged double-digits to return for this season.
“They’re really young,” Huggins said. “They’re playing a lot of young guys, and young guys sometimes, you know, make mistakes that kind of break your back.”
The all-time series between the two programs dates back to 1949, with the advantage belonging to West Virginia 10-7. Here are some of the matchups that could make or break their 18th meeting, which gets underway at 2 p.m. ET in Manhattan:
The Chairmen of the Boards
Kansas State has a tall task to fulfill inside when they go up against the conference leaders in rebounding.
Not only does West Virginia grab the most rebounds in the conference as a whole, but Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe are respectively the Big 12’s individual leaders in rebounds. At least one of them has grabbed double-digit rebounds in 13 of their 16 games so far, with each of them grabbing as many as 18 in games this year.
Grabbing rebounds is great, but creating opportunities is even better — and WVU is pretty good at that, too. The Mountaineers lead the Big 12 in offensive rebounding percentage, keeping their possessions alive after 38.8 percent of their misses.
“We get a lot of mileage out of second shots, but we always have,” Huggins said. “We teach it, we spend a lot of time on it, we emphasize it. And then when you have two guys like we have — really, four guys like we have [with Logan Routt and Gabe Osabuohien] — we’ve got four guys we can throw in there, mix and match and hopefully, continue to rebound the ball the way we have.”
West Virginia has a clear advantage on the glass, as Kansas State is currently in the Big 12’s rebounding basement. The aforementioned Sneed is the Wildcats’ leading rebounder with 5 every contest. That feeds into a total of just 33.5 per game — well below WVU’s average tally of 42.
The Swiping Wildcats
Huggins has a back-handed compliment for his team when it comes to their ball security: “We’re very charitable.”
He’s not talking about the funds they raise for the Norma Mae Huggins Endowment Fund, but rather their conference-high 244 turnovers on the season. This is one facet in which Kansas State has a possible edge. Sneed and guard Cartier Diarra lead their Big 12-leading efforts in the steals category, with KSU nabbing 8.56 per game.
Leading up to the contest, Huggins says his team has gotten better at their passing, though, and he hopes that will carry over to Saturday.
Where to watch
If you’re not flying out to the Little Apple for this Big 12 clash, it will be broadcast on ESPNU 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.