MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As one theory posits, the West Virginia press that has been wearing down opponents has worn down the Mountaineers too, because being the chaser is just as exhausting as being chased.
That’s not a theory Bob Huggins entertains.
He points to NBA teams playing three games in four days, during a season that stretches out to 80-plus games.
“And those are 30-year-old men doing it,” Huggins said, as if youthful college legs should be more readily recharged.
After the Mountaineers (18-5, 6-4) suffered back-to-back losses, showing less of the hyperactivity for which they had become known, Huggins noticed less bounce and periods of slack. But with a 12-man rotation spreading out minutes, the coach isn’t buying the fatigue excuse.
Neither is point guard Juwan Staten.
“I don’t think anybody wants to admit that they’re going to have a dead period, so I’m not going to speak that into existence,” he said.
Come Wednesday night, West Virginia has a chance to snap its first two-game losing streak of the season, hosting Kansas State in what bears all the signs of a must-win. Not only have the Wildcats gone 1-6 on the road this season, they’ve also dropped four straight and will be without suspended leading scorer Marcus Foster.
“We’ve lost two in a row and everybody has a pretty bad taste in our mouth right now, because that’s unfamiliar territory this year,” Staten said. “We’re eager to get out there and try to get a win.”
After winning 65-59 in Manhattan on Jan. 27, West Virginia desperately needs to complete the season sweep against the Wildcats—the only team left on the schedule that doesn’t project to make the NCAA tournament.
“We set goals for ourselves before the season,” Staten said, “and those goals won’t happen unless we take care of home court.”
K-State coach Bruce Weber, so flummoxed by his team’s 25 turnovers in the first meeting, wants the Wildcats to be tougher against WVU’s physical defense.
“It seems like the second time teams play them they have a little bit more success,” he said.
No. 21 WEST VIRGINIA (18-5, 6-4) at KANSAS STATE (12-12, 5-6)
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Eastern at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown (ESPNU)
Scouting the Wildcats: Fifth-year senior Nino Williams (11 points, 5 rebounds) exited with a knee sprain after only 8 minutes during the first game. He’s healthy now and ranks eighth in the league in field-goal shooting (50 percent) and fifth from the foul line (82.1 percent). He’s 18-of-18 on free throws in league play. … In Foster’s absence, junior Justin Edwards (6 points, 3.5 rebounds) has shifted from sixth man to the starting five. And off the bench, freshman Tre Harris is 7-of-13 on 3s the past two games after not appearing at all during an eight-game stretch in January. … 6-foot-7 senior Thomas Gipson (11.2 points, 4.7 rebounds) gets 38 percent of his points at the foul line, tops in the conference and 14th nationally. … Forward Wesley Iwundu (5.6 points, 3.3 rebounds) and guard Jevon Thomas (5.1 points, 3.2 rebounds) complete the Wildcats’ starting lineup.
Coaching the Wildcats: Bruce Weber (372-188) has taken three schools to 10 NCAA tournaments during 16 seasons, including two straight at K-State. His 2005 Illinois team won 37 games before losing to North Carolina in the national championship. (If the probe into systemic academic fraud strips the Tar Heels, do Weber and D-Will get backdated rings?)
Mountaineer musings: The defense must ramp up after Oklahoma and Baylor ripped through it. “We’ve got to make better rotations (on the press),” said guard Daxter Miles. “We know teams are going to follow up after we lose. They’re going to watch that and see how those teams beat us.” … Staten (14.4 points, 4.4 assists per game) is coming off a six-point outing in the 87-69 loss to Baylor. Devin Williams (11.7 points, 8.3 rebounds) finished with season-highs in points (20) and rebounds (15) in that loss. … With Jonathan Holton (8.7 points, 6.1 rebounds) shooting only 17 percent from 3-point range, even family members are offering advice. “He knows mechanically what his problem is,” Huggins said. “He told me his sister called him and told him—even she knew. That’s how bad it was. Either it’s painfully obvious or she’s a very astute basketball person.” … West Virginia leads the Big 12 with a plus-9.1 turnover margin, though in its last two losses the margin has been only plus-0.5. … Huggins is 758-307 overall in his 33rd season and 168-96 at West Virginia.
RPIs: West Virginia 29, K-State 106
Line: West Virginia favored by 10
Prediction: West Virginia 69-60