Amazing what a road win against one of the league’s most talented teams can do for you. West Virginia gets its third-lowest point total of the season, shoots barely 40 percent from the floor, misses 15 of 23 3-point shots and darn near gives away an eight-point lead … but wins.
Afterward the Mountaineers are quizzed about a game against the team that pretty much embarrassed them two weeks ago and, wouldn’t you know it, they’re making you take dictation.
“We feel we need to pay this team back,” point guard Juwan Staten said. “We’ve been in every single game but that one. They came out and hit us in the mouth early. They showed they were tougher than us and they were more physical and they wanted it more – that day. We don’t feel like that’s how it really is.”
Well, how is it really? Well, Kansas State is 1-3 on the road, and that’s all in conference play. The win is against — all together — TCU. The Wildcats only scored 65 points in that one and followed with 60 at Kansas, 64 at Texas and 75 at Iowa State. Shooting percentages? Try 52.5 at TCU, 44 at Kansas, 42.6 at Texas and 42.2 at Iowa State.
That probably ought not tell us very much. Kansas State struggles on offense (No. 9 in the Big 12 in scoring, shooting and 3-point shooting). Life is naturally harder away from home. But Kansas State has made its name on defense (No. 2 in scoring defense, No. 3 in field-goal percentage defense, No. 1 in 3-point percentage defense). Teams generally don’t guard as well away from home as they do at home, and a lot of that has to do with the home team playing typically above expected norms on offense.
Kansas State has had some off days of defense on the road. Let’s disregard TCU, which might go winless if it doesn’t get one against Texas Tech. At Kansas, Kansas State forced seven turnovers and had just one steal. The Jayhawks are the worst in the league in turnovers and turnover margin, but also helped themselves with 20 assists on 32 baskets on the way to shooting 56 percent from the floor. And a fella named Andrew Wiggins got cozy during the proceedings.
At Texas, the Longhorns threw in a 3 at the buzzer — it happens — but nevertheless won shooting 45.6 percent from the floor, 3-for-12 from 3-point range, 12-for-20 at the foul line and losing the rebounding battle. They had only 10 turnovers, though, and Kansas State had just two steals. Texas point guard Javan Felix wouldn’t stay out of the lane and had 22 points.
At Iowa State, the Cyclones shot 48.1 percent, made half of their 3-point shots and outscored Kansas State 20-12 at the free throw like in a 81-75 win. Melvin Ejim — don’t look now, but he’s leading the Big 12 in scoring — had 20 points on five baskets and a kid named Matt Thomas (that’s not a Wiggin-like joke … I had no idea who Thomas was before the game) came off the bench and made four 3s on the way to 14 points.
Here’s the … the … key, I think. Kansas led by 17 at the half, Texas by four and Iowa State by 12. Kansas State is not engineered to play from behind. It’s built to be a front-runner and to guard and pass and cut and play physical. Get behind and good lock. The Wildcats are 13-1 when they lead at the half and 2-4 when they trail. The largest halftime deficit they’ve overcome to win a game is five points.
The Mountaineers, who, if we’re being honest with one another, don’t enjoy much of a home court advantage, know their duty this afternoon.
“This is a real big game because Kansas State the first time, we went out there and we definitely got stepped on,” forward Remi Dibo said. “We never came close to making it a game. Everyone on the team is really looking forward to this one.”
I know you’re looking forward to this …
No clue what the crowd will be today, but there’s really no reason for, say, 5,200. But as you watch or listen or witness, here’s a reminder of the scene at Kansas State and its Octagon of Doom. The Wildcats are 11-1 with 11 straight wins (they lost the opener to Northern Colorado).