SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
A rocky start, including losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte, has been overcome by impressive wins. K-State has knocked off Gonzaga, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, and is in position to compete for the Big 12 title.
The Wildcats feature a nice mix of veterans and youth. Shane Southwell (Sr., G, 6-7) and Will Spradling (Sr., G, 6-2) provide the experience in the backcourt, with the former averaging 11 points and 4.9 rebounds per game against the latter's 7.1 and 3.2. Both move the ball well, accounting for the majority of KSU's assists. That duo bookends freshman Marcus Foster (G, 6-2) who leads the team with a 13.9 ppg mark.
Up front, it's the same structure, with Thomas Gipson (Jr., F, 6-7) and Wesley Iwundu (Fr., F, 6-7) holding the starting slots. Gipson checks in with 11.3 points and 6-3 rebounds per contest, while Iwundu adds 7.1 and 4.4, respectively.
After sitting out the first semester due to an NCAA ruling, Jevon Thomas has become a strong presence in the backcourt. The six-foot freshman has gotten nearly 24 minutes of playing time per game in his six outings, and is averaging 4.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per appearance.
Up front, Nino Williams (Jr., F, 6-5) gets the first call off the bench, where he tallies 5.5 points on 55% shooting from the field.
K-State doesn't shoot the ball well, as only Gipson and Williams are better than 46% from the field. Foster is solid from three-point range, hitting 36.6%, but again, the Wildcats aren't likely to gun down opponents. Instead, it's their excellent team defense that throttles foes into submission. They are allowing just 60 points per game (11th nationally) and more importantly, yielding only .93 points per possession. The Wildcats don't keep the score low by slowing the pace of the game -- they do so with sticky, tenacious defense that lasts from 35 to 00 on the shot clock.
Across the board, the numbers bear that out. Opponents shoot just 39.9% from the field against the Cats, and are making a frigid 26.7% from beyond the arc. They aren't paying a huge penalty for this defens in terms of fouls, either. While they do average 20.6 fouls per game (88th nationally), there's not a huge gap between their rate and many of their foes. WVU, for example, fouls an average of 19.9 time per game.
West Virginia can't get impatient and force shots or get frustrated against K-State's defense. It it does, it's going to be a long afternoon on the plains.
That might play out anyway, as the Mountaineers' offense has been devolving into high ball screens for Juwan Staten over several of its most recent games. If WVU can't get out in transtion (which it hasn't recently, due to a combination of poor defense and being overwhelmed on the boards), it's going to have to rely on its halfcourt offense, where it has struggled to get into rhythm. Texas removed Staten as a factor for much of last Monday's game by trapping him and denying him the ball in the backcourt, and removing precious seconds from the shot clock. The Wildcats will likely try to deny him the ball as well, which puts an emphasis on team play for WVU.
1:30 PM E
WVU 10-7, 2-7
KSU 13-4, 3-1
Big 12 Network
WVU - 88
KSU - 35
In order to overcome this, the Mountaineers must execute their motion offense at all positions. They can't get frustrated if K-State stays with them for the first four or five passes. They have to keep running, keep reading and trust that an open shot will come. There's no place for forced drives or hurried shots against the Wildcats, but unfortunately that patience hasn't been in evidence for WVU recently.
There's also a flip side to the problem -- at times when WVU has run the shot clock down, it's been too passive. There has been some standing around waiting for Staten to produce, and as stellar as he has been, he can't do it alone. West Virginia has to find the happy medium between rushed and too relaxed, and that's going to be the key in today's game.
While K-State has been very tough at home (45-15 in its last 60 Big 12 games), it's not likely to ring up 75 or 80 points. It is averaging just 67.5 per outing, so WVU has the chance to stay close, even it its not matching its 1.15 points per possession mark. Of course, WVU's defense also comes into the equation here, but it shouldn't be overwhelmed physically, as it has been at times in the last two games. To have the chance at an upset, WVU must keep it close, get a few baskets in transition, and play with poise and control.
The 70-point barrier continues to be the ultimate indicator of WVU's success or failure. The Mountaineers are 8-0 when holding teams under that total. Given K-State's defensive stance and low shooting percentages, that mark could be in jeopardy.
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WVU head coach Bob Huggins noted on his radio show this week that West Virginia was the only job in the country that he would have left K-State for. He cited many similarites between the two schools and regions, including the genuine and caring nature of the people in both states.
One difference, though, is in attendance. K-State is one of just 13 schools in the nation to draw more than 12,000 fans for each home game over the last three seasons.
WVU Director of Basketball Operations Josh Eilert is a K-State alum, having played two seasons for the Wildcats from 2002-04.
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More K-State defensive strength: The Wildcats have held 12 of their last 16 opponents to its season low in points, including to 60 or less on nine occasions. Ten opponents have been held below 40 percent shooting, while 13 have shot less than 30 percent from three-point range.
K-State has held 25 opponents to 60 points or less under Bruce Weber with an impressive 23-2 record in those games.
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Terry Henderson's defense has been on an upward arc over the past four games. While he probably needs to tone down the big windup on blocked shot attempts he's taking against shooters, he has rejected six shots in conference play, and is getting better at helping from the weakside. He's also second on the team with 20 rebounds over that stretch, and has five steals as well. Add in his 45.8% shooting from three-point range and his 20-1 assist to turnover ratio, and he's been the second best player on the team against Big 12 foes.