3-Point Preview: No. 11 Iowa State visits Morgantown

Feb 4, 2023; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins argues a call during the second half against the Oklahoma Sooners at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Morgantown, W. Va.
Time: 6 p.m.
KenPom Prediction: 69-66, WVU

1 – Deceiving metrics

There is only one team in the KenPom top-20 with a losing record in conference play, and that distinction belongs to the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Bob Huggins’ team started Big 12 play with five straight losses, but they’ve bounced back to win four of their last six games overall and three of their last five games against Big 12 competition.

They’ve made that flip exactly how you’d expect a West Virginia team to find success. That’s through physical, tough defense, tenacity crashing the glass and an endless parade of trips to the free throw line.

“They’re playing great. They’ve played a very challenging schedule. When you look at the losses, that’s certainly part of it,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “I’m not a big metrics guy or look at a whole lot of numbers, but, from what I’ve been told, they’re in the top-20 in NET and KenPom and all those things. Regardless of what their record is, the numbers say they’re like a top-20 team. More specifically, they’re playing really well right now.”

To understand how well this team is playing, you have to look no further than their last game against Oklahoma, a dominant 32-point win, in Morgantown on Saturday.

In the win over the Sooners, the Mountaineers collected 15 offensive rebounds, shot better than 50 percent from 2-point range and 40 percent from deep while also attempting 31 shots at the charity stripe.

No team in the league has done a better job at getting to the foul line in league play than West Virginia. They have the league’s highest free throw rate by a wide margin and they’re attempting 24.3 free throws per game, which ranks No. 7 nationally.

Mountaineer guards Kedrion Johnson and Joe Toussaint are each in the top five in the league in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Johnson leads the league in free throw rate and has attempted eight or more free throws in five of West Virginia’s 10 league games.

Not only does Johnson get to the line a lot, but he converts from the line, too, knocking down better than 86 percent of his foul shots against Big 12 teams. He scored 16 points in the win over Oklahoma and was 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.

Keeping West Virginia off the free throw line will be one of this game’s biggest keys for Iowa State. It is going to be a tall task when you consider the Cyclones are dead last in the league in opponent free throw rate.

Only two Power Six teams put opponents on the free throw line more often than Iowa State. One of them is UConn and the other is West Virginia.

Nearly every team West Virginia has played in recent weeks has been to the free-throw line at least 20 times. The Cyclones need to stay aggressive offensively in order to do the same and keep that portion of the stat line as balanced as possible.

Of course, it might not matter that much since Iowa State is the Big 12’s worst free-throw shooting team, but this can’t be the kind of game where West Virginia attempts 30 free throws and Iowa State attempts five.

2 – Battle of the glass

Another of this game’s most important battles will come on the glass. Iowa State leads the league in opponent offensive rebounding rate while the Mountaineers are No. 2 in the league in creating second-chance opportunities.

West Virginia ranks No. 2 in the league in opponent offensive rebounding rate while Iowa State is No. 3 in creating those opportunities.

In other words, these teams are very similar in the way they want to attack the glass in order to create second chances and get easy baskets. This is an area Iowa State will have to win in order to leave Morgantown with a victory.

“They’re a team that prides themselves on being the aggressor, especially on their court, where they overwhelm you,” Otzelberger said. “They do that with ball pressure. They do it with rebounding. The areas where we want to be really good, that’s where they try to be good in those things as well.”

West Virginia has several guys with prolific offensive potential, but as a team they’re not doing anything at a prolific level consistently. They rank No. 6 in the league in offensive efficiency during Big 12 play, they’re No. 9 in the conference in effective field goal percentage and bottom-half team in 3-point shooting.

The Mountaineers are able to level the playing field against more talented teams by dominating the glass and getting to the free throw line over and over again.

I cannot stress enough how important winning these two games within the game will be for Iowa State.

“We’ve got to focus on doing what we can do and being who we can be, but we know that we’re going to have to play really well to be successful there,” Otzelberger said. “We’re going to have to do what we can to make them not play as well by those same things.”

3 – Names to know

When diving into how West Virginia wants to play, it isn’t hard to pinpoint who they want to play through.

Wichita State/Washington/South Carolina transfer Erick Stevenson has been the Mountaineers’ best player throughout the entire season and has been especially hot over the last few weeks, scoring 15-plus points in each of the team’s last four games.

Stevenson is connecting on 38 percent of his 3-point attempts this season but is knocking down just 25 percent of his shots from deep in Big 12 play. Still, he’s proven to be a dangerous sniper by making 13 of his last 21 3-point attempts at home.

The 6-foot-4 senior scored 31 points and was 7-of-10 from deep in West Virginia’s win over Auburn in the Big 12/SEC Challenge then went for 34 points on 6-of-11 from deep against Oklahoma.

Stevenson can be a streaky player, but if you allow him to get comfortable, he’s capable of making it a long night for opposing teams.

“He’s playing great. Lately, he’s shooting it with a lot of confidence. He’s highly aggressive,” Otzelberger said. “When his mentality is focused on being the best he can for his team, they play at a really high level. They’ve certainly been doing that lately. They’ve had some big wins. Most teams, when it’s the leading scorer or the best offensive player, whatever that may be, when things are going well for him, it usually means things will go well for others. What we need to do is do a great job of being intentional, not letting him be comfortable and not letting him get clean looks, open looks or be confident. We’ve got to always try to be disruptive and try to frustrate him.”

Stevenson is aided by a trio of double-figure scorers led by 6-foot-9 Texas/UMass transfer Tre Mitchell, who is averaging 12.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this season. He’s connecting on 40 percent of his shots from deep against Big 12 teams.

Iowa State fans are already familiar with Toussaint, the 6-foot, transfer guard from Iowa, who is averaging 10 points and 2.7 assists per game for the Mountaineers. He scored a season-high 22 points in West Virginia’s win over Texas Tech two weeks ago while going 12-of-14 from the free throw line.

The last of that trio is the aforementioned Johnson, who is better than anybody else in the Big 12 at getting to the free throw line, and that’s where he does the majority of his damage on a given night.

The keys to this game could not be any clearer for Iowa State. Dominate the glass, keep them off the free throw line and keep Stevenson uncomfortable.

Do those things, and you’ve got a great chance to maintain your spot tied atop the league. Fail to accomplish those keys and it could be a very, very long night in Morgantown.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.