MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — No. 15 West Virginia has gone from being sick of losing to simply being sick.
Coach Bob Huggins said five players are dealing with the flu, some requiring hospital visits, leaving the Mountaineers undermanned as they prepare for Saturday’s Big 12 home game against Kansas State.
The teams own identical records of 16-6 overall and 5-4 in the league, though they’ve taken dramatically different trajectories of late. West Virginia has dropped five of its last six games, while K-State has won four of five.
When they last met on New Year’s Day in Manhattan, the Mountaineers prevailed 77-69. Pulling off the home-and-home sweep looks difficult as nearly half the rotation copes with illness. Senior guard Daxter Miles, a 112-game career starter who was too sick to travel to Iowa State on Wednesday, seems to be experiencing the worst of it.
“I’m just worried about having enough guys to play,” Huggins said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this many guys sick at one time.
“Hopefully some of them get better. Everyday it’s seemingly a new guy.”
The 93-77 loss in Ames was so error-filled that Huggins said a planned 20-minute film review stretched beyond an hour and coaches still were only able to get through the game’s first 7 minutes.
“It was awful,” Huggins said.
Bruce Weber’s film sessions have been rosier, though K-State’s four-game winning streak ended with a 70-56 loss to Big 12 frontrunner Kansas on Monday.
That stretch helped the Wildcats resurface in NCAA bracket projections. Sporting a 66 RPI and rated 42nd by KenPom, K-State hopes to earn more breathing room after last season’s team received one of the final at-large bids.
“We’ve got to finish the job and have a good run in the second part of the Big 12,” Weber said. “It’s up to us. I think we’re good enough. We’ve beaten some good teams and now we’ve got an opportunity to beat some other good teams and leave no question.”
Guard Barry Brown (17 points, second in Big 12 minutes) and forward Dean Wade (16.4 points, 6.5 rebounds) give Kansas State inside-outside punch. Wade shoots 56 percent from the floor and has produced four consecutive 20-point performances, mitigating Brown making only six of his last 25 shots.
K-State could be reinforced Saturday by the return of point guard Kamau Stokes (13.4 points, 4.6 assists), who has been sidelined since Jan. 6.
“If he makes progress, maybe we’ll have him for 10 or 15 minutes,” Weber said. “It could give us a little bit of depth.”
Kansas State (16-6, 5-4) at No. 15 West Virginia (16-6, 5-4)
Tipoff: Saturday, 4 p.m. in Morgantown, W.Va. (ESPN2)
The skinny: While the Mountaineers were minus-3 in turnovers during the first meeting, Teddy Allen scored 22 and Lamont West and Miles combined for 11 baskets in close. “When we played them they were on a pretty good high,” Weber said. … Xavier Sneed scored 20 vs. WVU, nearly twice his average, but the Wildcats shot only 35 percent. … K-State hasn’t won in Morgantown since January 2013. …
Scouting WVU: Jevon Carter ranks third in Big 12 scoring (17.4), first in steals (3.2), fourth in assists (6.6) and 19th in rebounding (5.2). … Making 7-of-10 shots and scoring 17 at Iowa State, Esa Ahmad (9.7 points, 5.2 rebounds) showed a more aggressive side WVU has been waiting on. … Sagaba Konate ranks second in the league to Texas center Mo Bamba in defensive rebounding percentage.
Quotable: “I told him in a couple huddles to go get some put-backs, go get some layups, find some other ways to score if that 3 is not going. It can’t be your one and only focus.” — Bruce Weber after K-State’s Xavier Sneed shot 0-of-7 from deep against Kansas
Quotable, part II: “The flu shots don’t do you any good. This is a different strand of flu.” — Bob Huggins
RPIs: K-State 66, West Virginia 33
Prediction: West Virginia 75-71