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Basketball Preview: We’re Talking West Virginia Pt. 1

Iowa State gets another chance for a signature win tonight

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

All of the non-conference games are officially out of the way now. Iowa State floundered to an 8-4 mark outside of the Big 12 after losing in Nashville on Saturday. If the Cyclones are to make their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament, they’ll have to do so on the strength of their performance in the league, which while adequate to this point, lacks a signature win.

Winning tonight against West Virginia would go a long way to alleviating some fans’ concerns, especially with a road trip to Lawrence looming on Saturday. If they don’t come out victorious, odds are the Cyclones will be facing an absolute must win game at Texas on the heels of a three game losing streak a week from today. In a season that’s seen a ton of close calls in chances to gain signature wins, it’s time for Iowa State to rise to the occasion if the NCAA streak is to continue.

Last Time Out

As previously stated, Iowa State fell at Vanderbilt on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge thanks to a barrage of 3-pointers by the Commodores. Steve Prohm fell to 0-7 against the Drew Brothers, and although Iowa State mounted a late comeback, the game was really out of reach for the majority of the second half.

West Virginia kicked off the Big 12/SEC Challenge festivities with an 81-77 victory over a struggling Texas A&M squad. The Mountaineers never really felt threatened in the contest, but the pesky Aggies mounted a late comeback of their own to make the win much more uncomfortable than it should have been.

About West Virginia

This may be the most West Virginia team that has ever West Virginia’d. The Mountaineers are the nation’s best team at turning opponents over, and while that number may be a bit inflated due to games like forcing 40 turnovers against Manhattan, they’re still forcing a turnover better than 30% of opponent possessions.

They’re also the nation’s third best team at corralling offensive rebounds. They feature the 7th most efficient offense - largely on the back of the offensive rebounding prowess, and the 11th most efficient defense - largely on the back of the turnover numbers.

Perhaps the number that sticks out to me the most is that West Virginia is allowing opponents to rebound more than 13 of their own misses at 35.1%. It’ll be interesting to see if Iowa State sends players to the offensive glass or if they retreat to avoid giving up transition buckets.

As always, the Mountaineers are very deep and could potentially play up to seven guys in the front court at 6’8” or taller. Deonte Burton will likely get the start on the athletic 6’8” Esa Ahmad who’s second on the team in scoring at 12.1 points per contest. Ahmad also torched the Jayhawks for 27 in Morgantown last week.

Players to Watch

When a team goes 10-12 players deep, it’s hard to find which players ISU should key on, but there’s three that really stick out. Jevon Carter and Nathan Adrian are two familiar faces for ISU fans. Carter leads the Mountaineers at 12.2 points per game and his notorious rainbow three gave the Mountaineers the lead in the last few minutes that they never relinquished in Hilton Coliseum last season.

Adrian is a pick and pop post player averaging 10.4 points and 6.3 boards per game. Iowa State allowed 7’1” Luke Kornet of Vanderbilt to step out and shoot all the 3’s he wanted (3/9), and I would assume they’d be happier with Adrian shooting 3’s than layups as well as he’s only a 30.3% shooter. However, if he’s hitting those, we’ll see similar frustrations to what we saw on Saturday.

The player to keep an eye on the most, though, is Esa Ahmad. As I already mentioned, he torched Kansas and has the ability to score all over the floor. If Burton matches up in man to man, he will have to try to force Ahmad to shoot over the top, but if he can’t stay in front of Ahmad, the Cyclones’ help defense will be tested. West Virginia is a solid interior passing team, so staying in front of penetration will be a must.

What to Expect

Iowa State is a home underdog for the second time this season, and there’s a reason for that. West Virginia is really good and as we saw last season, if Iowa State is unable to disrupt their offensive rhythm, this could be a long night for the Cyclones. West Virginia’s shot selection has often been questionable when they’re forced to run half-court sets, so if Iowa State can stop penetration and close out on shooters, they can force some bad shots. However, they must clean up the boards too, which has often been a problem.

Offensively, Iowa State should be able to get decent shots if they don’t turn the ball over. We’ll see if they learned from the Cincinnati game about not settling for shots the defense wants them to take. If they run their offense and take good shots, they’ll have a good chance to score, but if they’re weak with the ball and settle for jumpers, it’ll take a monumental effort to stay in this one.

I expect to see a lot of transition opportunities, a lot of offensive rebounds, and a lot of frustrating turnovers. This is West Virginia after all.

Pick 3

  1. The team with more turnovers loses
  2. West Virginia gets more than 20 second chance points
  3. Iowa State shoots less than 15 FT’s

Iowa State - 67; #7 West Virginia - 72

Game Notes

Game Time: Tuesday, January 31st, 8:00 p.m. CST

Line Open: West Virginia (-3.5); O/U (152.5)

The Foe: Smoking Musket

TV/Webcast: ESPN2/WatchESPN (John Sciambi, Miles Simon)

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network/TuneIn Radio App (John Walters, Eric Heft) Game Notes: Available here