As West Virginia heads into the heartland for a Big 12 showdown at Iowa State, here’s a five-point primer for tonight’s game:
1. Picking up the pace
The Cyclones (11-4, 1-1) average 82.5 points per game, which ranks sixth nationally, and they’re the only Division I team that has scored at least 70 points every night out.
They’ve done it by launching lots of 3-pointers (26.3 a game) and playing an uptempo style that creates transition opportunities.
“It’s our philosophy,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, whose squad leads the Big 12 in possessions per game. “We really want try to get the ball up and down the floor and score before the defense gets set.”
2. Board work
Iowa State’s tallest starters are only 6-foot-7, yet the Cyclones lead the Big 12 in team rebounding margin at plus-8.9, and one of their 6-6 guys, Melvin Ejim, is the conference’s top individual rebounder at 9.3 a game.
“We’ve been giving up size pretty much all season,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to be outsized most every night, so you’ve got to have the right mindset to go in there and battle on the glass.”
WVU outrebounded Texas 45-39 in its lone league victory and was out rebounded by one in each of its losses. Hoiberg expects the Mountaineers to be a bruising as ever.
“There’s no doubt about it — they will be the most physical team we play all year,” he said. “That team certainly takes on the identity of their coach.
“Bob’s teams have always been so physical. They run their offense, cut extremely hard and the biggest thing they do is offensive rebound.”
3. Point of order
The teams’ point guard scenarios couldn’t be more anithetical: senior Korie Lucious evolving into a stabilizing floor leader for Iowa State, Juwan Staten unable to get on the floor for West Virginia.
After drawing raves from his WVU teammates and Coach Bob Huggins during the offseason, Staten sank the winning shot against Virginia Tech and started the first 14 games. But something curious transpired at Texas, where he was benched for the second half. Huggins kept Staten shelved for the entirety of Saturday’s 65-64 loss to Kansas State.
Lucious, meanwhile, has put together a sturdy six-game run since struggling in an 80-71 loss at Iowa on Dec. 7.
“The biggest thing now is he’s making simple plays, where before he was trying to get the ball into tight spaces, trying to make some home-run passes,” Hoiberg said. “I think he was pressing early on in the season because he was excited to get back out and play after a year off.
In Saturday’s 82-62 win over Texas, Lucious scored 10 points and dished nine assists against three turnovers. Said Hoiberg: “He was as important as anyone in our win against Texas and he only took five shots.”
A transfer who started in the Final Four for Michigan State, Lucious’ experience could be a settling influence as the Cyclones target a second straight NCAA bid.
“We’re happy with the way we’re playing, but we’re not content,” Lucious said. “We’ve got more work to do.”
4. Freshmen in focus
Since climbing into a starting role three games ago, West Virginia’s Terry Henderson has bounced from really good (21 points vs. Oklahoma) to good and terrible (two points, four turnovers at Texas). How he capitalizes on open-court situations Wednesday night could determine whether WVU has a chance.
For Iowa State, forward Georges Niang has made three starts as well, highlighted by a career-best 18-point performance (on only seven shots) against Texas. Though he lacks elite athleticism, the 6-7 Niang (Knee-yang) possesses long-range shooting touch and savvy skills in the post.
“He’s just such a smart basketball player,” said Hoiberg, who first noticed Niang craftily getting up shots over 6-11 Kentucky signee Nerlens Noel at an AAU scrimmage. Niang’s new teammates caught on last summer.
“From the first open gym, we saw he could score the ball,” said senior Will Clyburn.
Said Lucious: “Georges creates a lot of mismatches. With him starting at the 5, it’s going to be difficult for any 6-9, 6-10 slow guy to hold Georges because he can shoot the ball from the outside. Pick-and-pop opportunities are there, pick-and roll opportunities are there. He really stretches the floor.”
West Virginia (8-7, 1-2) at Iowa State (11-4, 1-1) WHEN: Wednesday, 9 p.m. TV: ESPN2 RADIO: MetroNews coverage starts at 8:30 p.m.
5. Home at Hilton
From his hiring date three years ago, Hoiberg challenged fans to make Hilton Coliseum the kind of energizing homecourt advantage he remembered from his playing days. As the ticketbuyers have responded, the Cyclones have rewarded them with wins — 16 in a row, in fact. That includes eight consecutive Big 12 home wins.
More than 14,000 were on hand for the Texas game, but even more impressive was the 12,548 who showed up for the New Year’s Day win over a 4-9 Yale squad.
The Mountaineers will not encounter a crowd like the sleepy 6,200 who showed in Austin.