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Let's Talk West Virginia

Ed Zurga

Contrary to the title of this piece, I'd rather not talk West Virginia. Inevitably, we all know how this preview is going to materialize and I'm sure we'd all prefer to never revisit the black mark on what has been an otherwise, outstanding season.

Alas, an intriguing revenge game awaits the Cyclones tonight in Hilton Coliseum. Ironically enough, coming off that 102-77 Mountaineer victory on February 10th, these two teams are trending in different directions. West Virginia has dropped two in a row while the Cyclones have won three straight.

That three-game winning streak has put Iowa State into a tie for second place in the Big 12 standings with Texas as both teams sit at 9-5 in league play. With only four games left in the regular season, the Cyclones can ill afford to drop a home game if they want to secure a runner-up finish.

Revisiting the Thumping

You may or may not remember, but the 25-point pounding in Morgantown wasn't a beatdown from start to finish. At the 14:58 mark in the first half, Georges Niang found Dustin Hogue underneath for an easy bucket, giving the Cyclones a 14-13 lead. In the opening five minutes, Iowa State was matching West Virginia shot-for-shot and looked more than comfortable playing at a rapid pace. Then, it all went to hell in a handbasket.

Iowa State didn't score again until the 7:44 mark and by that point, the damage had already been done. During that 7-minute stretch, West Virginia scored 17 straight points while the Cyclones shot 0-9 from the floor and forced Fred Hoiberg into burning two timeouts.

The Mayor's squad never got it to closer than 11 after that run, trailed by 19 at half time and never threatened in the second half. The end result was the worst ass-kicking of the Hoiberg era, but something I noted after that game, which I firmly still believe, is that West Virginia was neither that good nor was Iowa State that bad. It was simply one game of opposite extremes for both teams and an aberration on both team's resumes.

The stats are almost laughable when you really look at them. The Mountaineers hit 13-22 3-point shots (59.1%), shot 53.8% overall and knocked down 19-21 free throws. West Virginia also dished out 18 assists while only turning it over 8 times and came up with 9 steals.

Bob Huggins' team also had four guys score 16 or more points, including a career-high 20 from Remi Dibo, who blistered the nets on 6-8 outside shooting. Juwan Staten finished with 19 while Eron Harris had 16 and Terry Henderson, who was 4-7 from deep, also had 16 points.

On the abysmal end of the spectrum, Iowa State clanked their way to a 36% shooting night, hitting only 4-23 from beyond the arc and turned it over 14 times. On the plus side, all those misses allowed the Cyclones to rack up 23 offensive rebounds. Sadly, all of those second chance opportunities just allowed Iowa State to pile up more misses.

The only "highlight" of the game came when Dustin Hogue went flying into the air, delivering a kung fu kick to a West Virginia player:



Unfortunately, that kick set the tone for some Eron Harris one-hitter-quitter revenge. It was an ugly end to an ugly night (for Iowa State fans at least), but the beauty of the Big 12's round-robin schedule means that the Cyclones will have a chance to erase (well, not completely) that terrible, terrible loss from our collective memories.

And Tonight's Winner Is...

After getting butt trounced in Morgantown, I guaranteed Iowa State would win their next four games, including this revenge match against West Virginia. Now, after making that type of statement, what kind of chump would I be if I picked the Mountaineers here?

West Virginia is a solid 3-4 on the road in conference play (wins over Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor), but have dropped their last two away games by 14 at Kansas and by 17 at Texas. The Mountaineers also have a 22-point road loss at Kansas State earlier in the year on their ledger, meaning that there is definitely some blowout potential in play here.

If the Cyclones are going to come away with a comfortable win, they're going to have to earn it. West Virginia is a team that doesn't make many mistakes offensively and their 13.8% turnover rate is the 5th best mark nationally.

As we saw in Morgantown, this team is also scary dangerous from outside. West Virginia is knocking down a little over 8 treys per game in conference play and leads the Big 12 in 3PT% at 38.3%.

As good at the Mountaineers have been offensively, though, their struggles on the defensive end have kept them from truly being in the NCAA tournament conversation. They're allowing a league-worst 78.9 points per game and opponents are shooting 48.2% from the field (also the worst in the conference) against them. As we saw in the first match up, West Virginia is also susceptible to giving up a few too many offensive rebounds.

Still, as poor as West Virginia has been defensively, it was Iowa State that gave up 102 points in Morgantown and the Cyclones are going to have to play much better on that end of the floor to come away with a win tonight. West Virginia was lethal from outside in Morgantown, but hidden in that 13-22 performance from deep was how open some of those looks were for the Mountaineers. That brings me to Juwan Staten. The junior point guard has played himself into all-conference and player of the year consideration and is one of the best players in the country off the dribble, getting into the paint with ease on what seems like every possession. With Staten attacking, defenses are forced to collapse and that frees up teammates on both sides of the floor. Iowa State absolutely has to make stopping Staten its top priority on the defensive end.

Finally, we know just how dominant Iowa State has been at home, putting away the middle of the pack teams of the Big 12 like clockwork in recent years. With double-digit losses in Manhattan, Lawrence and Austin, it would seem to suggest that West Virginia struggles in the more hostile arenas in the conference. Well brother, it doesn't get any more hostile and rowdy than Hilton Coliseum.

Iowa State 89 - West Virginia 77

Game Info

Tip: 7:00 PM CST

TV: Big 12 Network with Doug Bell and Bryndon Manzer on the call

Radio: John Walters and Eric Heft bring the sounds of Cyclone basketball to you wherever the Cyclone Radio Network can be heard Game Notes: Available here

West Virginia SBN Site: The Smoking Musket