The West Virginia Mountaineers are the surprise team of the Big 12. They sit at 14-1 (2-0) and are ranked No. 14 in the country. To illustrate some of the surprise with how far they have climbed the ladder, WVU started the season at No. 55 in the Ken Pomery rankings, today they are 12th.
Their best win to date was a neutral site win over the Connecticut Huskies and their other impressive notches in the win column came against North Carolina State at a neutral site by 14 points, and their win at TCU last Saturday (that is maybe trending down the “quality win” chart”). Their lone loss was a late blown lead to an okay LSU team in Morgantown.
The Mountaineers were once seemingly destined for the middle of the pack in the league at best, but current efficiency numbers place their ceiling as much higher than that. Can they truly battle with the expected top four of Iowa State, Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma for a conference crown? If they want to be in that company this is a game they need to win.
From the other side of that token, you have an Iowa State team with championship aspirations that has struggled to make shots and get their pistons all firing at the same time. Georges Niang and Bryce Dejean-Jones, the two expected offensive leaders, have struggled to make shots in the ugly and close loss to South Carolina and the not much prettier close win over Oklahoma State to open conference play.
A win in Morgantown would go a long way to getting back on track, especially when the Mountaineers could end up being a top four team in the league. I’ve said for a while that if ISU wants to contend, they likely need to stay on pace by winning one of these next two games (at West Virginia and at Baylor) and that is without mentioning the home date with Kansas that will be a chore.
When the Mountaineers have the ball…
Bob Huggins has his guys playing at a median pace but scoring with the third best efficiency in the league at 1.11 points per possession (PPP). Following the chart down through the four factors, you begin to realize that it isn’t achieve with great shooting but more from taking care of the ball and winning the bar fight in the paint for offensive rebounds. And that is exactly what they’ll turn the game to in the paint, at both ends. They lead the league in offensive rebounding percentage and they’re the fifth best in the country.
The Cyclones have the best defensive rebounding rate in the league (and top 10 in the country) to combat West Virginia and that is certainly a very key battle that will take place on Saturday. The other strength of the ISU defense is keeping opponents off of the line. West Virginia doesn’t especially excel in that area but it will still be key for ISU to not give up the attempts to West Virginia.
The ‘Eers hoist 3-point attempts at just the eighth highest frequency in the league and they’re shooting percentages align with the effective field goal percentage from above that is less than impressive on its own. They own a decent assist rate and the numbers continue to show that they largely are a great team at taking care of the ball.
When the Cyclones have the ball…
The Cyclones are still pacing the league in scoring and tempo while shooting at the best clip (though it doesn’t seem like it in the last two games) in the league and very rarely turning the ball over. Though the last two games had some instances of sloppiness and careless travelling calls and bad passes both games ISU turned it over on 17 percent of possessions. Those are their fifth and sixth worst showings of the season.
The West Virginia defense, and in many ways, their offense as well thrives off of creating turnovers. They not only lead the Big 12 at 31.9 percent of opponent possessions ending in turnovers but they also lead all of college basketball.
That is the main reason they allow just 0.86 PPP. Their shooting defense leaves plenty to be desired and they routinely give up offensive rebounds (eighth worst in the Big 12) and on top of that they send teams to the free throw constantly.
Free throws will be a big key for Iowa State. They got to the line plenty against South Carolina (a similar style of defense) but when they did they only made 19 of their 33 attempts. In fact, in Iowa State’s first nine games they made 77.5 percent of their free throws but in the last four they have made just 53.8 percent.
Part of that is Jameel McKay’s emergence but Dustin Hogue is also still struggling from the stripe while getting there more often. In his first nine games, he averaged 3.8 free throw attempts per game and in the last four he has averaged five free throw attempts. The other culprit is the struggling Georges Niang. Through his first nine games he attempted 47 free throws and missed just five (89 percent) but in his last four games he has attempted 15 free throws and missed five as well (67 percent). Whether he’s struggling that much or just regressing to the mean of his first two seasons (71 percent) is yet to be seen.
The players breakdown…
I know that table may be a bit difficult to see and read completely, but we’re working on an improvement. It’s also slightly changed from the past where it now includes the basic points per game and rebounds per game as well as the shooting accuracy from each of those areas.
The color formatting is done to highlight all of the players from both teams in comparison of each other and just by looking at effective field goal percentage you can see that the Iowa State roster is filled with the better shooters. The Mountaineers barely have two guys over 55 percent while the cyclones have four and none of those are Niang given his recent struggles.
Devin Williams is their big body that will be a handful all night long. Niang will be given that assignment from the tip but McKay will chip in with his slight frame and we may see some Daniel Edozie to offset some of that size. The good news with Niang guarding him is that Williams would also guard Niang and he’s pretty foul prone at 4.8 fouls committed per 40 minutes played.
Juwan Staten is the main man to worry about though, he’s their fearless leader that can score and leads his team in assist rate at 23.2 percent. He isn’t a great shooter and only takes 1.8 3-point shots per 50 possessions he plays, but he is making 37 percent of them this year to force defenses to play him a bit more honestly. But the key guarding him is to keep him out of the lane. He is deadly with his dribble penetration and he can finish at the rim or find the open teammate when he gets into the paint. Monte Morris may bet the assignment for most of the game but if Fred Hoiberg wanted to go unconventional he could put Dejean-Jones on him to try and affect him with his length and five inch height advantage.
Jaysean Paige is the gunner from outside that is hitting at a clip over 60 percent with his effective field goal percentage and he’s making 47 percent of his tries from behind the 3-point line while putting them up 4.7 times per 50 possessions.
Gary Browne and Daxter Miles are the other two shooting a high percentage from beyond the arc that will need to be identified early and kept in check. Browne doesn’t get as many shots off but he’s hitting on 39 percent of them.
Jevon Carter is only making 27 percent of his tries but he’s launching at the highest frequency on the team which should tell us that he’s capable. Carter is also pacing the Mountaineers with his steal percentage of 6.1.
Jonathon Holton and Elijah Macon pair up with Devin Williams down low to deflect and re-direct a lot of shots as well as pace the team in rebounding rates. Holton is a bit more of a threat offensively though Macon can be a thorn in his supporting role.
And, oh by the way, look at the individual foul rates for West Virginia as compared to Iowa State. Games like this prove out why they antiquated and silly thought process that fouls should be equal on each side is so laughable.
What I think will happen…
I’m not sure if it will happen, but I think it needs to happen for the Cyclones to have any success; make some shots early. Iowa State played against a very similar style in Brooklyn just one week prior and that experience, though difficult, should prove invaluable in Morgantown.
For the Cyclones to win they’ll obviously have to start finding the net on their shots from the outside but they’ll also have to play through the brawls that will be going on around the rim; both physically and mentally. And when they get fouled they’ll have to knock down their free throws.
Other than all of that, keep the turnovers in check as Hoiberg teams almost always have. Handle the press if it gets thrown out there but once it gets beaten they’ll have to attack the rim and finish. If a lead can be built then maybe the tempo battle can be swung more in the favor of Iowa State too.
Defensively Staten needs to be kept out of the paint not just to prevent him scoring but also to keep Paige, Carter, Miles, and Browne from getting good looks outside the arc. The other main key, and probably bigger key on defense, is winning the glass. Getting the rebound may require a jump kick to the chest of a player, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right Dustin Hogue? But seriously, that’s the kind of battle that they’ll be in for on every single rebound and that is a crucial point in keeping West Virginia at bay in their scoring efficiencies. The other key to watching this is if West Virginia changes their strategy at all with Iowa State liking to try and run so much. If they still attack the offensive glass that hard but the Cyclones can secure the rebounds then, in theory, there should be some transition chances to score some easy buckets.
Their lowest offensive rebounding percentage game was against LSU at 30 percent (yes, their lowest output is better than Iowa State’s average if that gives you any idea on the differing philosophies). Not coincidentally their lone loss was also their second worst shooting game of the season with an effective field goal percentage of 38.1.
Had Iowa State gotten the ball rolling more in the right direction at home I would have more warm and fuzzy feelings about this game. The offense could surely snap out of the funk at any moment and railroad a team; it’s just harder to predict anything like that right now. The offense will need Niang playing more like the Niang we’ve grown to love. Hitting some outside shots and scoring on the block when he gets isolated by being patient and keeping it simple. Start with the baby hook that he’s so good with and then build from there. And when the double team comes be ready and find the open guy.
A re-emergence of Dejean-Jones would possibly flip my thinking here that ISU won’t quite pull it out and while he battled and played hard against Oklahoma State he just isn’t in rhythm right now offensively. He hasn’t benefited from a transition bucket in weeks and he’s struggling to get to the rim when not settling for a jump shot.
But, I do think Iowa State will play better but ultimately succumb to the style of play environment. I think they’ll have a chance to win in the last four minutes but a key rebound or two will slip away as the Mountaineers pull off a close win.