West Virginia and Kansas State have won 21 of 24 games between them, but only one of those contests was against a ranked team. All that will change Saturday as No. 24 West Virginia travels to Manhattan, Kan., for the Big 12 opener for both squads.
Not much was expected of either team coming into the season as they were picked to finish last (K-State) and next-to-last (West Virginia) in the Big 12 coaches’ preseason poll.
West Virginia (10-2) has just five players returning from last season’s squad that finished 16-17. But that looks like a veteran squad compared to Kansas State (11-1), which has a new coaching staff and only two players from last year’s 14-17 team.
The Mountaineers suffered one of their two losses to Purdue, the team currently holding down the nation’s No. 1 ranking. The other losses were road defeats in the Big East-Big 12 Battle; K-State fell at Butler while West Virginia lost at Xavier.
West Virginia has four straight double-digit wins in Morgantown since the Xavier game. Coach Bob Huggins was not pleased with his team’s effort in their last victory, a 75-64 win over Stony Brook. Huggins went with a four-guard lineup in the second half, even with two players over 6-foot-10 for the Seawolves.
“Frustrating,” Huggins said. “It was a very poor showing tonight on our part.
“I was just looking for someone who would play hard and somebody who would pass the ball. We don’t pass the ball. We’re trying to run what we’ve run for however many years, and it’s been really good to us because we had guys who can pass the ball and wanted to pass the ball. We need willing passers.”
The Mountaineers, as usual, get their scoring from several places. They have four players averaging in double figures, led by Erik Stevenson at 14.5 points per game, and eight players with at least 5.0 points per game.
They’re fifth in the Big 12 and 24th nationally in scoring margin at 15.3 points per game. Kansas State is just three spots below them nationally at 14.3.
The Wildcats have showed athleticism in the nonconference season, but they haven’t faced a team that is currently even receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll.
Two players expected to be team leaders — holdover guard Markquis Nowell and Florida transfer Keyontae Johnson — have delivered. Johnson leads the Wildcats with 17.7 points per game and Nowell is second with 13.7.
But the third player in double figures, Nae’Qwan Tomlin at 11.7, has taken people by surprise. The 6-foot-10 forward poured in a season-high 26 points in the Wildcats’ last game, a 73-65 win over Radford.
“Energy,” coach Jerome Tang said after the game when asked what Tomlin has brought to the team lately. “He’s physically capable of doing more on both ends of the floor. And especially defensively, he’s getting his hands on a lot of balls. He’s blocking shots. He’s keeping things alive.
“Offensively, offensive rebounding. We always say it takes a junior college kid a semester. He had a little drop-off because I think his energy level dropped off. But he’s been really good the last few games.”
–Field Level Media