It's been a whirlwind of a week for the Iowa State basketball program. The Cyclones triumphed in a triple-overtime thriller at Oklahoma State, snapping an 18-game losing streak in the process, Melvin Ejim scored a Big 12 record 48 points on Saturday and the Rashad Vaughn circus roars on as as the 5-star prep nears (hopefully) his college decision.
Unfortunately for this Iowa State team, they won't even have a chance to take a breath as they hit the road for Morgantown to take on a dangerous West Virginia team. The Mountaineers are coming off a frustrating 83-69 loss at Kansas where they fell apart down the stretch, turning a close game into a comfortable win for the Jayhawks.
Prior to the loss, Bob Huggins' team had won three in a row behind the play of the explosive backcourt duo of Juwan Staten and Eron Harris. The pair is each averaging more than 17 points per game and Staten especially has been hot of late, scoring at least 20 points in each of his last three games.
West Virginia sits at 14-10 overall and 6-5 in league play and has won three straight conference games at home, taking down Texas Tech, Kansas State and Oklahoma in the process. This figures to be one of the more difficult games remaining on Iowa State's schedule and a win tonight could go a long way in positioning the Cyclones for a second place finish.
West Virginia Scouting Report
Part of the reason the Mountaineers are so dangerous is because of their unpredictability. Lately, this has been a team that's played at a high level offensively, but they're still susceptible to defensive lapses.
Defending Staten and Harris will be key as they account for nearly half of the Mountaineers' offense. Staten is a threat to attack the basket every time he has the ball in his hands. He's only attempted 14 threes on the year but is as good as anyone in the country when it comes to penetrating into the lane. Harris on the other hand is a gunslinger. The sophomore has unlimited range and has already hoisted 159 deep balls on the year and is shooting at a 42% clip.
West Virginia does an excellent job of taking care of the ball as they only turn it over on 14.2% of their possessions, good for 7th best in the country. They are tops in the conference in turnover margin and have the third best assist-to-turnover ratio as well.
Aside from strong play out of Staten and Harris, West Virginia is also getting significant contributions from Terry Henderson and Gary Browne in the back court. Henderson is the third leading scorer on the team and another threat from deep.
Outside shooting is one of the biggest strengths of this team and Huggins has a roster full of guys that can light it up. Harris and Henderson have to be accounted for on every possession, but West Virginia also has a few bigs that could cause problems for Iowa State defensively.
Remi Dibo and Nathan Adrian are each shooting at least 37% and Dibo has already nailed 38 treys on the year. Given this versatility, it will be interesting to see how Iowa State defends West Virginia. Down the stretch against Oklahoma State, the Cyclones somewhat abandoned doubling in the post and that decision carried over to Saturday's game against TCU. With the type of shooters Huggins has at his disposal, if Iowa State goes back to that scheme, it might be open season from deep for West Virginia.
There's one true inside threat on this team and it comes in the form of Devin Williams. The freshman is a budding star on the glass, but is still developing an offensive game. At this point, he's more of a garbage bucket type, but at 6'9" 255-pounds, Williams could cause some issues for Iowa State's post players.
I mentioned earlier that West Virginia is a less than stellar defensive team. In conference play, the Mountaineers are allowing opponents to shoot 48% from the field, easily the worst mark in the Big 12. Iowa State has been among the best teams nationally in two-point field goal percentage (56.2%) and effective field goal percentage (54.7%), meaning this is a game where if Iowa State can play to their reputation, they should be able to execute offensively.
It's not necessarily part of Huggins' reputation to get away from an aggressive man-to-man scheme, but we have seen teams employ a zone against Iowa State recently, partly to slow down DeAndre Kane on the perimeter, but also to neutralize Georges Niang on the inside. I wouldn't be surprised if Huggins throws some trapping and zone into the mix on Monday night.
And the Winner Is...
Last year, Iowa State managed to get out to big leads in both Ames and Morgantown, only to see West Virginia come storming back. The Mountaineers nearly pulled off the comeback in Hilton before Will Clyburn found Niang under the basket for the game-winner. In West Virginia Coliseum, a hot shooting night from outside saved the Cyclones down the stretch as Iowa State picked up a big road win toward the end of the regular season.
I don't see Iowa State building a big lead tonight, but I wouldn't be shocked if the Cyclones hold a 2-3 possession lead throughout the majority of the game. The key will be keeping that distance and holding a lead and not allowing the Mountaineers to sustain any lengthy runs.
Offensively, I think Iowa State will be able to score in the paint and that should help neutralize the crowd to an extent. Look for Hoiberg to go to Niang early to get some rhythm going offensively, which should open things up for Kane and Ejim.
Defensively, it all comes down to how the Cyclones defend on the perimeter. Monte Morris will have his hands full checking Staten and he has to turn him into a jump shooter. Harris, however, is the guy that worries me most. He absolutely can not be left open and it's going to take a complete team effort defensively to step out on Harris off screens and making sure that he doesn't get loose.
This is going to be a tense, 40-minute affair, but with the type of confidence Iowa State is playing with at this point, I see the Cyclones winning their fourth straight and picking up a crucial road win.
Iowa State 82 - West Virginia 77
Tip: 6:00 PM CST
TV: ESPNU with Adam Amin and Bob Valvano on the call
Radio: The game can be heard via the Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
West Virginia's SBN Site: Smoking Musket