MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Perhaps the Iowa caucuses would have been decided sooner if they were a referendum on the popularity of Iowa State basketball coach Steve Prohm.
Prohm’s seat would appear to be getting uncomfortably warm as he squanders the considerable talents of Cyclones point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who would probably be a shoo-in for Big 12 player of the year if he weren’t saddled with playing for Iowa State.
“Haliburton is a first-round pick,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “He’s a [6-foot-5] guy with ball skills who passes well.”
Haliburton is averaging 15.7 points and 6.9 assists per game, with the latter total leading the league. He’s also the Big 12’s leader in steals by a long shot, averaging 2.5 per game.
Yet somehow this great point guard is not carrying a great, or even good, team with him. The Cyclones (9-12, 2-6 Big 12) limp into WVU Coliseum having lost five of six. The lone win in that stretch was against Oklahoma State, which has yet to win a Big 12 game.
How poor is the talent and/or scheme around Haliburton? In the only game he missed, the Cyclones lost to Florida A&M. The Rattlers are 279th in the NCAA’s NET rankings.
Most NCAA tournament projections continue to have No. 13 West Virginia (17-4, 5-3) as a top-3 seed with a short trip to Cleveland for the first and second rounds. But if WVU is to land such a geographic favor from the tournament committee, it likely needs to maintain or improve that status.
For that to happen, this is the type of game the Mountaineers cannot afford to drop. Though thanks to Haliburton, they also can’t mark it down as an automatic win.
Knapper back on track
Sophomore guard Brandon Knapper is back in Huggins’ good graces.
Knapper played 12 minutes against Kansas State on Saturday after getting just one minute of playing time in the previous three games.
Part of it was being in Huggins’ dog house and part was bad luck.
Huggins was steamed following WVU’s Jan. 18 loss at Kansas State, calling out a player who complained of fatigue from the previous day’s practice. When West Virginia hosted Texas two days later, Huggins sent Knapper back to the end of the bench when Knapper was walking to the scorer’s table to check in.
Knapper only played a minute against Missouri, then didn’t even make the trip to Texas Tech. But that was very much legit — Huggins said Knapper lost 10 pounds dealing with an illness.
Now it appears that Knapper is both healthy and happy.
“I’m just staying positive,” Knapper said. “As long as we win, that’s all that matters. Me being sick, I’m a little fatigued now, but I’ve been drinking a lot of fluids to flush this thing out.
“I love this team, and I’ll do anything to stay on here.”
Iowa State (9-12, 2-6) at West Virginia (17-4, 5-3)
TV: ESPN 2, 7 p.m.