By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s men’s basketball team tries to recapture its road magic as it heads to Manhattan, Kansas, to take on Kansas State, which has had enough magic of its own to become the Big 12s Cinderella team.
Picked to finish fifth in the conference’s preseason poll, second-year coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats pushed their record to 13-2 with a 72-66 victory over Oklahoma on Tuesday night that lifted their conference record to 3-1.
WVU won its first two conference games at TCU and Texas Tech, a victory that looks far better now that the Red Raiders have pulled off an upset of Baylor, but home was not kind to WVU, which dropped games to Oklahoma State and Texas to fall to 10-7 for the year and 2-2 in Big 12 play.
The game, which tips off at 1:30 p.m. today, can be seen on WVFX out of Clarksburg and PCNC out of Pittsburgh.
WVU will be looking to regain its shooting eye from the outside against a Kansas State team that normally doesn’t place a premium on pressuring the perimeter.
“They’re going to give you some perimeter shots; they’re just not going to give you anything easy,” Huggins said. “They make you score the ball over top of them, and for being a little undersized, they’re quick to the ball.
“Everybody’s gotten shots from the perimeter, and they try and do a good job of contesting them, and the other thing that happens is if you take too many of those, and you take them too deep on the floor and they bounce out, it’s an outlet pass and that gives them an opportunity to score easy baskets,” Huggins added. “The team that generally gets the most easy baskets wins.”
Eron Harris, who had been WVU’s most dangerous outside shooter before conference play began, has slipped badly in conference play and has made just 1-of-13 3s in this last two games, going 0-for-7 against Texas.
“He has to keep his confidence,” suggested teammate Juwan Staten when asked what advice he would be giving Harris to regain his stroke. “Everyone goes through slumps. It’s something you have to get yourself out of.”
“If we ever get all our guys capable of making shots all at one time …” Huggins said. “If Nate (Adrian) and Remi (Dibo) and Terry (Henderson) and Eron … man, we could spread people out.”
The one thing WVU can’t afford to do is have the slump rub off on Staten, who has thrust himself into the conversation for Big 12 Player of the Year despite the early date.
Staten is averaging 17.4 points a game to go with 6.1 assists and a 53.4 field-goal percentage, while in conference play it is even better, ranking second in scoring at 20.8 points a game while hitting a league-leading 63.8 percent of his field goals and ranking third in assists at 5.5 per game.
“Staten can get by anybody,” Weber said. “His numbers against Oklahoma State were phenomenal and that was against some of the better guards in the country.”
Staten scored 20 points with eight assists and five rebounds while going up against Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, who was last year’s Player of the Year.
This will provide a strong test for Staten, however, as Kansas State’s defense is predicated upon keeping players out of the lane, which is Staten’s strength. Much of his scoring is done by getting past his defender and a step or two inside the free throw to hit a jumper or in setting up someone breaking to the basket or behind the 3-point lane.
“He is making good decisions, whether he is going to the hoop or creating and kicking,” Weber said.
“He really wants to get out in transition and go,” said K-State senior guard Will Spradling. “He really wants to get to the basket. He has a really nice pull-up jumper, so it is going to be the same thing – pressure him in the full court and then once he gets into the half court, just try and contain him.”
K-State will devise some way to contain him.
“You drive to the lane you will see a whole bunch of guys with different color shirts on,” Huggins said.
WVU has shaken off the flu that went through the team, so it should be physically ready as it takes the floor to face the Wildcats.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.