SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
K-State used a three-guard lineup in its most recent win, and ran its record to 3-0 this year when the quintet of Angel Rodriguez, Will Spradling, Rodney McGruder, Thomas Gipson and Shane Southwell tips things off. That group, which provides very balanced scoring, is again expected to get things underway for head coach Bruce Weber when they take the floor in Morgantown.
McGruder, a three-time conference player of the week, is the unquestioned leader of the team. The 6-4 senior leads the 'Cats in scoring (14.7) and steals (18), and has taken almost 100 more shots than any of his teammates. While that might appear to make him a bit of a ball dominator, McGruder contributes in other ways as well. He averages 5.5 rebounds per game, and is a good defender who physically overpowers foes.
Rodriguez and Spradling complete the starting guard trio, and also head a group of players who share the scoring load. Rodriguez (Soph, 5-11) tallies 9.5 points per outing and boasts a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio -- the benchmark for effective ballhandling. Spradling (Jr., 6-2) is right behind with 8.9 points per outing, and he's even better in protecting the ball, having dished out 48 assists against just 17 turnovers to date.
Gipson (Soph., 6-7) has started just more than half of K-States game so far, and is scoring an effective 7.9 points in 20 minutes of action per contest. Add in his 6.6 rebounds per game, and you get a player who is very active in his time on the court. Southwell (Jr., 6-6), who has five starts, mans the swing spot with 6.3 points and 3.2 board per outing.
Balanced productivity continues down the bench, where many of the contributors also have starting experience this year. Nino Williams (Soph., 6-5) adds 7.1 points and 5.5 boards in 17.5 minutes per game, while Jordan Henriquez, Adrian Dias, Martavious Irving, D.J. Johnson and Omari Lawrnece all weigh in with at least 11 minutes of action per game. Henriquez (Sr., 6-11) stands out with 26 blocked shots, while Irving is a designated sniper off the bench.
That loaded rotation makes K-State difficult to defend, as every player who makes it in the game ahs the ability to score in some fashion. No individual other than McGruder is a threat to light up the scoreboard for a 20-point night, but K-State often gets the same result with five or six players each contributing a half-dozen points.
K-State is coming off a win over #22 Oklahoma State, and had a week off prior to traveling to West Virginia. The Mountaineers had a hellish travel experience after the Texas win, not arriving in Morgantown until around 7:30 AM on Thursday. That prep and rest time could have an impact on Saturday's game, but WVU has a lot more to worry about that short turnarounds.
While the Wildcats feature McGruder, they back him up with ten other players that see appreciable playing time on the court. All have the ability to get a bucket or two, and while they don't feature any blistering shooters, they get numerous second shot opportunities, thanks to 229 offensive rebounds to date. Their bigs stay close to the hoop and convert many of those second chances. Gipson, Williams, Henriquez, Diaz and Johnson have combined to try only two three-pointers this year, and they also defend well, helping to hold teams to just 38.5% shooting from the field.
WVU 8-6, 1-1
KSU 12-2, 1-0
Big 12 Network
WVU - 73
KSU - 39
West Virginia will have to be very disciplined on defense. It will have to recognize which players have the ball on the perimeter, and either cover them or shade off as their talents dictate. That might seem to be an easy task, but the Mountaineers have struggled this year to identify players that are threats to shoot, and those that aren't. In this game, McGruder, Rodriguez, Spradling, Southwell and Irving can't be left alone beyond the arc.
K-State's depth helps it in a couple of different ways. First, players can go all out, and know that they can get a rest and get right back in the game once they get a breather, With 11 players tallying at least 11.1 minutes per game (and none more than 30), the Wildcats can defend strongly and not worry a great deal about foul trouble or getting worn out. That helps them play with an intensity that many other teams can't match. Will West Virginia, which finally showed at least a few signs of playing with toughness in its win over Texas, continue on that path?
K-State has played just one true road game this year -- a 65-62 win at George Washington. It is 1-2 in neutral site games this year, but the losses have been to Michigan and Gonzaga, so it's not as if the Wildcats have loaded up on easy foes. They also own wins over Oklahoma State and Florida, but play with markedly different efficiency away from home.
In their home building, K-State rings up an average of 73.7 points on 44.7 percent shooting, including
33.7 percent from 3-point range, while allowing just 53.2 points on 35.4 percent shooting, including 25 percent from beyond
the arc. In its four neutral and road games this season, it records nearly 14 points less (60.0 ppg.) on
36.2 percent shooting, including 30.3 percent from 3-point range, while allowing 66 points on 46.3 percent shooting.
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Both teams varied their starting lineups in their previous game, and both came away with victories. West Virginia's frontcourt alignment of Kevin Noreen and Dominique Rutledge was a first-time-ever pairing in the starting lineup, and the first start for Rutledge in his West Virginia career. The duo combined for eight points and 16 rebounds in 40 minutes of play -- but Rutledge had just nine minutes on the court due to foul trouble. If he can limit his bumping and banging just a bit, WVU might have two players it can rely on for rebounding on both ends of the floor. WVU certainly doens't want to play Kevin Noreen 31 minutes, but it's good to know that he can, and that he can be productived despite some limitations in athletic ability.
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The game will mark the ninth time the Wildcats have faced a former head coach -- a situation that hasn't boded well for the men in purple. K-State has won just one of those games (95-80 over UNLV and Lon Kruger on Dec. 12, 2009), and is 0-1 against WVU head coach Bob Huggins.
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With Jawan Staten benched due to a conflict with Huggins, Jabarie Hinds played 37 minutes against Texas. He has started every game of his Mountaineer career.