UPDATING THE WILDCATS
K-State has moved steadily up the rankings since it knocked off the Mountaineers on the strength of a pair of free throws and a blocked shot in the final seconds of a 65-64 win in Morgantown on Jan. 12. Ranked 18th in the AP Poll at the time, the Wildcats now stand tenth and with a solid spot in the NCAA tournament. A two-game bump of losses to Kansas and Iowa State has been offset by a 5-1 record since, including a 20-point blowout of a Baylor team that crushed WVU by a similar margin last week.
The 'Cats continue to get balanced scoring across its starting lineup, with senior Rodney McGruder (6-4, 205 lbs.) leading the way with 15.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He's been the Big 12 player of the week four times this year. Angel Rodriguez (So., 5-10, 180 lbs.) and Will Spradling (So., 6-2, 180 lbs.) ensure that McGruder has sufficient support, with the duo combining to lead K-State in scoring in ten games this year. Overall, Rodriguez tallies 10.7 points and 5.0 assists per game, while Spradling adds 8.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
The Wildcats continue to wear down opponents with a heavy rotation. Eleven players are averaging at least nine minutes per game, giving head coach Bruce Weber a number of options to deploy against different foes. K-State continues to defend well, and won't wear down or crumble under ball pressure, as several recent Mountaineer opponents have done. They have had to battle a drop-off in rebounding since moving to a guard-heavy offense, but their improvement in most every other area has resulted in an outstanding season to date.
The Wildcats are also battle tested, owning four wins over teams with Top 35 RPI rankings. They are one of just four teams in the nation to boast that number, and are primed to earn an excellent seed in the NCAA tournament.
Game One of the "NCAA Desperation Tour" puts WVU on the road in this Big Monday contest, and despite the ovservations of some who say that this game isn't a "must win" for West Virginia, it most certainly is.
To pull off the upset, West Virginia must correct the turnover rash that has plagued it in its last two games. It can't give K-State 18 extra possessions, as it has done against Baylor and Texas Tech in recent outings. West Virginia simply doesn't have the overall defensive strength to keep all of K-State's scorers off the board, so it has to maximize its own chances and limit those of the Wildcats.
9:00 PM E
WVU 13-12, 6-6
KSU 20-5, 9-3
WVU - 94
KSU - 22
K-State moved to what amounts to a four-guard lineup just prior to the opening of Big 12 play, and the results have been unquestionably good. The move has, however, caused some shortcomings in the rebounding department, and it's there, along with other aspects of play in the lane, where the Mountaineers must take the initiative. It was unable to do so in much of the first game, as Deniz Kilicli managed just six points on four shots. Aaric Murray was effective late, but he needs to have an impact as soon as he enters the game, not just over the final 15 minutes of the contest.
While WVU is expected to start its normal lineup, a pairing of Murray and Kilicli on the high and low post seems to be the best avenue of attack against a smaller K-State lineup. The Mountaineers need to force the Wildcats out of their comfort zone and make bigger players, such as D. J. Johnson and Adrian Diaz, onto the floor for more minutes. That could serve to disrupt their offense and give West Virginia a chance to return the favor of a road win.
WVU must also dominate on the boards. It has to earn second shots on its own end, and keep K-State from converting second chance points of its own. To achieve that, every Mountaineer has to do his job on the glass -- the assignment can't be completed by just the big men. With shots coming from all over the floor from K-State's spread-out attack, the Mountaineer guards have to rebound and block out their opposite numbers.
With a win over the Wildcats, Bob Huggins would move into an 18th-place tie with Ray Meyer on the NCAA Division I all-time winngest coaches list. Huggins currently has 723 wins. Jerry Tarkanian and Norm Stewart are next on the list, tied for 16th with 729 victories.
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K-State protects the ball fiercely, giving it a number of additional possessions. Seven Wildcats have posted an even or positive assist-to-turnover ratio this seaso. Its four primary ball-handlers (Angel Rodriguez, Martavious Irving, Shane Southwell and Will Spradling) combine for 291 assists to 126 turnovers -- a 2.3-1 ratio. Overall, the Wildcats are 23rd in the nation in that stat.
Valuing the ball has allowed K-State to fire off 144 more shots than its opponents this year. That, coupled with good shooting from the field, has allowed it to outscore opponents by 225 points from the floor.
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Bob Huggins' single season at K-State in 2006-07 started a still-active string of seven consecutive 20-win seasons for the school. Huggins' success (23-12) helped KState double its ticket sales, moving from 6,500 season tickets the year prior to his arrival to 13,000 in 2006-07. That's a rate that West Virginia hasn't come close to during his time in Morgantown.
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WVU stands at 6-6 in conference games, and their statistics show a remarkable trend that mirrors its won-loss record. In the Big 12, the Mountaineers have taken 611 shots, the same number as their foes. WVU has made 260 of their tries from the field, with opponents hitting four more. Free throw percentages stand at 64.9 and 65.2, respectively. Rebounding totals are separated by just 12. WVU has four fewer turnovers and an identical number of steals. And in the all-important points scored column, WVU has outscored its opposites by a total of six points in 12 contests.