Kansas State goes on the road for the second time in Big 12 play when they travel to West Virginia for their third conference contest of the season on Saturday.
Bob Huggins has the Mountaineers ranked in the top 50 in both the NET and KenPom with wins over UConn (No. 16 NET), UAB (No. 37), Clemson (No. 57) and Oakland (No. 72) and losses to Texas (No. 11) and Marquette (No. 55).
West Virginia was without Taz Sherman, Gabe Osabuohien and Kobe Johnson for the Big 12-opening loss in Austin, but it wounds like those three should be in tow for today’s game against the Wildcats.
Huggins has his group playing tough defense, as they rank No. 21 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency at 0.92 points per possession.
The best part of their efforts on that end of the floor is their ball pressure. They force turnovers on 26.6 percent of opponent’s possessions, which is good for No. 5 in the nation.
They also have a solid eFG% (effective field goal percentage) of 47.8 percent (No. 101). Opponents make 50.0 percent of their twos (No. 194) and 29.5 percent from deep (No. 46). West Virginia is also holds teams to a free throw rate of 26.2 percent (No. 97).
The Mountaineers are awful on the glass. They allow opponents to grab 34.1 percent of their missed shots (No. 334).
Bob Huggins (WVSports.com)
Offensively, they rank No. 83 by scoring 1.07 points per possession.
They’re best on the glass with an offensive rebounding rate of 33.2 percent (No. 56) and at making trips to the charity stripe with a free throw rate of 35.2 percent (No. 56). However, West Virginia only makes 63.2 percent (No. 344) from the line.
They are average at taking care of the basketball, with a turnover rate of 18.4 percent (No. 146) and slightly below average shooting it with an eFG% of 49.9 percent (No. 176).
The Mountaineers make 50.4 percent of their two-point baskets (No. 148) and 32.5 percent from beyond the arc (No. 214), but just 31.2 percent of their shots are from three-point range (No. 311).
With K-State still missing the bulk of their posts, rebounding will be a big key on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats has been solid over the course of the season on the defensive glass, but keeping West Virginia off the glass will be a chore and Kansas State struggled in that department against Texas.
Turnovers will be something to watch on both sides. But it is a key area K-State could exploit against the Mountaineer offense that struggles with turnovers at times. Another thing to watch will be Kansas State from behind the three-point line.
They didn’t make a single one on nine attempts in the second half against the Longhorns, which was one of the deciding factors.
Huggins has completed an interesting job assembling this current team. His top six players are all guys that are in the second or third year in the program, but his top three guards are all junior college transfers and their sixth man is an Arkansas transfer.
Through the portal, he made his team older. They grabbed three super senior graduate transfers, and the 10th player in the rotation is the only true freshman receiving significant minutes.
Guard Taz Sherman is one of the best players in the league, if not the country, averaging 20.9 points per game (second in the Big 12). He also leads the league in usage, shot rate and points per 100 possessions.
Sherman leads West Virginia in assists with 2.8 per game, makes 35.4 percent from distance on 5.4 attempts per game, and attempts 6.4 free throws per game and makes 78% percent from the charity stripe.
He has a solid offensive rating of 1.08, considering how much the ball is in his hands.
Guard Sean McNeil scores 13.8 points per game and grabs 2.8 rebounds to go with 1.7 assists. McNeil hits 39 percent from three-point range on 4.9 attempts, with an offensive rating of 1.13.
Taz Sherman (USA Today)
The third guard in the West Virginia backcourt is another former junior college transfer in Kedrian Johnson. He isn’t a big scorer at only 4.6 points per game, averages 2.0 assists and isn’t a shooting threat. Johnson only hits 18.2 percent from beyond the arc.
HIs 0.92 offensive rating is the lowest of any guard for the Mountaineers.
Sophomore forward Jalen Bridges scores 8.1 points per game and leads the team with 5.2 rebounds per game. He can step out and shoot, hitting 38.1 percent from three on 3.2 attempts per game, while leading the Mountaineers in offensive rating at 1.19.
6-foot-10 forward Isaiah Cottrell is in his second year, but he missed the last half of last season with an injury. Cottrell scores 4.6 points per game and grabs 2.6 rebounds per game, while splitting time inside.
Gabe Osabuohien is in his third year at West Virginia after transferring from Arkansas. The forward scores 4.3 points per game and is second in rebounding at 4.8 per game. Malik Curry is a grad transfer super senior from Old Dominion scoring 7.3 points per game.
True freshman Kobe Johnson is the back-up point guard, and two more super senior forward transfers round out the rotation with Pauly Paulicap from DePaul and Dimon Carrigan from Florida International.
SUMMARY AND PREDICTION
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN PLUS
TIP TIME: 1:00 P.M. CST
FAN: With Taz Sherman likely back, it looks to be a tough matchup for a short-handed Wildcat team. We know Markquis Nowell is back and Nijel Pack, Mark Smith and Davion Bradford look to be available as well. But Kansas State will still have a short bench and limited coaching with only Jermaine Henderson on the sideline, along with a graduate assistant. A second short-handed game against a team that hasn’t played in a week and will be nearly at full strength is too much for K-State, as West Virginia pulls away in the second half for the win. Wildcats fall, 74-61.
DY: How does the trade look for Kansas State? They likely have Davion Bradford and Markquis Nowell return, but they do lose Shane Southwell, Mike McGuirl and Ismael Massoud. They may have won that, though they’d like to have everyone available of course. The problem for the Wildcats is that it is the case for the Mountaineers. They should be at full strength, while K-State travels across the country. It is far from an ideal situation. They’ll stay competitive for a while, like against Texas, and then fade away down the stretch. Wildcats are overwhelmed, 73-58.
FLANDO: West Virginia defends the three-point line incredibly well. Offensively, they don’t shoot it well from the outside as a team, but both Sherman and McNeil will hurt the opponent if they are open enough. Those two should be the emphasis for Kansas State, while forcing other Mountaineers to take outside jumpers. The Wildcats will want to make defending the paint a high priority and attack the paint on the other end. Although K-State has shot it well from outside this season, Huggins’ team will make converting those shots tougher than ever. Throw in the fact that the Wildcats have only seven scholarship players and one coach available, and it could be a tough afternoon. The Mountaineers are supposedly going to be at full strength and they should have no business falling to Kansas State under the circumstances. West Virginia wins, 74-62.
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