MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Example No. 5001 that time flies by too fast: After 13th-ranked West Virginia hosts Iowa State today, the Mountaineers will have all of just nine games left in the regular season.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that Logan Routt was killing the opposition in summer exhibition games in Spain? Didn’t we just get to know freshman Miles McBride?
The Cyclones (9-12, 2-6 Big 12) visit the WVU Coliseum in a must-have game for the Mountaineers (17-4, 5-3). As fast as this season has gone, we are now no longer in that part of the season where WVU can afford to suffer from growing pains, even though there are still plenty of them out there.
“We can’t keep talking about working out the kinks anymore,” was the way WVU forward Derek Culver put it. “We’ve got to move past that and focus on where we can go as a team.”
Where West Virginia can go, we’ve discussed in this forum a number of times already. WVU is still projected as a No. 2 seed, according to ESPN’s Bracketology. The Mountaineers are still in the top eight of the NCAA’s NET rankings.
Catching Kansas and/or Baylor in the Big 12 standings is still a mathematical possibility.
All of those goals, though, can become farther from reach with a loss against Iowa State. Without any more hesitation, here’s what you need to know:
TV: ESPN2 (Comcast chs. 36. 851 HD; 209 DirecTV; 143 DISH) for the 7 p.m. game. BETTING LINE: West Virginia is a 10.5-point favorite.
WHAT DOES BOB HUGGINS HAVE TO SAY?
West Virginia’s coach moved past Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp on the all-time wins list and has North Carolina legend Dean Smith in his sights, needing three more victories to move past Smith.
Huggins, though, has more important things to worry about, like how to slow down an Iowa State offense that is second in the Big 12 in scoring (75.0 ppg), while continuing to work on finding some kind of consistent shot-maker from the perimeter.
Oh, and he has to find someone to guard Iowa State point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who Huggins referred to as “a first-round pick.” Who will get the first chance? Huggins said most likely it would be Jermaine Haley.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVES
F–Emmitt Matthews Jr., Soph., 6-7, 210, 6.8 ppg. Has attempted only six 3-pointers over his last six games.
F–Oscar Tshiebwe, Fr., 6-9, 258, 11.2 ppg. His 26 minutes played on Feb. 1 was the most since Jan. 6.
F–Derek Culver, Soph., 6-10, 255, 11.0 ppg. Leads the Big 12 with 136 free-throw attempts.
G–Jermaine Haley, Sr., 6-7, 215, 9.0 ppg. In 56 career games, he’s fouled out once.
G–Jordan McCabe, Soph., 6-0, 188, 3.2 ppg. Has committed just 27 turnovers in 286 minutes played this season.
F–George Conditt IV, Soph., 6-10, 223, 8.0 ppg. Hasn’t scored in double figures since Jan. 4.
F–Michael Jacobson, Sr., 6-9, 240, 7.1 ppg. Shooting 41.4% from the floor, which is down 16 points from last season.
G–Prentiss Nixon, Sr., 6-2, 188, 8.1 ppg. A grad transfer from Colorado State.
G–Tyrese Haliburton, Soph., 6-5, 175, 15.7 ppg. Leads the Big 12 with 6.9 assists per game.
G–Rasir Bolton, Soph., 6-3, 183, 15.2 ppg. Is averaging 19.3 points over his last four games.
THREE GOOD QUESTIONS
What’s the story behind Jordan McCabe and Tyrese Haliburton? The opposing point guards began their high school careers in Wisconsin as rivals, but that eventually turned into mutual respect and then a friendship.
“Jordan is real funny,” Haliburton said during Big 12 media day in October. “Off the court, he’s just a goofy dude who likes a lot of different things. When we hang out, he’s always very positive and funny. He’s a good person to be able to call a friend.”
They developed into two highly-recruited players from a state that doesn’t produce a ton of Division I hoops talent. Both guys realize that and actually use their knowledge of home in trash talk during games.
“The good thing with Jordan, we will say things to each other about back home that nobody else would probably understand,” Haliburton said. “He talks right back.”
What’s the key to the game? It may be Iowa State’s defense and whether or not the Cyclones play any. WVU has won the last four meetings in Morgantown and averaged 89.8 points per game in those wins.
Iowa State is allowing 72 points per game this season, which is last in the Big 12.
“They’re going to play multiple defenses. They’re going to press a little bit,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “They’re going to play man-to-man some with two bigs inside. I think we just have to execute and stop missing one-footers. We’ve missed more lay-ups and one-footers than any team I’ve ever known.”
Who has the big game today? I’m going with WVU freshman Oscar Tshiebwe, who hasn’t had more than eight rebounds in a game since Jan. 20. He’s also only attempted two shots in each of the last two games. He’s due for another big game.
Iowa State has lost three in a row and are 0-6 on the season in true road games. West Virginia’s offense seems to play well against Iowa State’s defense in the Coliseum. I think the Mountaineers win and cover, 85-69.
JUSTIN’S SEASON PREDICTIONS AGAINST THE SPREAD: 6-11.