No. 17 West Virginia returns to conference play with road trip to Iowa State

Gold and Blue Nation

17th-ranked West Virginia men’s basketball is shooting for redemption after its tough loss to Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge when it heads to Iowa State. The contest gets underway Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

The Mountaineers (11-5, 4-3 Big 12) have the opportunity to gain ground in the Big 12 standings against the Cyclones (2-9, 0-6 Big 12), who are currently rounding out the bottom of the conference with a winless record. The two squads faced each other back in December, with WVU holding on for a close victory in Morgantown, 70-65.

WVU has undergone a makeover since that contest, losing two of its big men two both transfer and injury and forcing it to play a more guard-oriented style of hoops. As the Mountaineers’ scoring has gone up, however, so has that of their opponents’. In their last two contests, the Mountaineers have given up more than 85 points — the first time they’ve allowed that many points consecutively since 2018-19.

This has been a point of concern for WVU coach Bob Huggins, who said it could be due to his players’ mentalities.

“You know, a lot of guarding is wanting to,” he said. “I’ve had guys that maybe weren’t as fundamentally sound as a lot of other guys but they guarded their tails off because they took a lot of pride in it. I just don’t see a lot of pride. I don’t see anyone getting mad when their man scores….I don’t see anybody upset, they just can’t wait to get it out of bounds and go the other way, and that’s not a good thing.”

There have been a lot of positives since the team’s facelift, however, including the opening up of center Derek Culver. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award candidate had a strong game against Florida on Saturday, notching a career-high 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.

“I think Derek could consistently be a double-figure rebound guy,” Huggins said. “It’s kind of like guarding people. You’ve gotta want to, and I’ve never had a rebounder who didn’t want to rebound, and I think as Derek becomes more consistent in his play, which he has over the years, I think he’ll be one of the premiere — if not the premiere — rebounder in America.”

Culver has set himself apart in the Big 12 at the very least, holding the top spot in the conference as the only double-figure rebounder through 16 games. Consistency has been a slight issue, however, as he has yet to put together more than three double-digit board games in a row.

While Culver has seen his role increase, so has the backcourt as a whole. Despite putting up single digits against the Gators for the first time since the New Year, Miles McBride has been a consistent source of energy on offense with a pair of 20-plus point games in January, including a memorable game-winner against Texas Tech.

Another interesting development is the emergence of Jordan McCabe, who has also seen a sharp increase in playing time and production since the Mountaineers took a two-week hiatus due to COVID-19. He has been starting at the point for four straight games, and Bob Huggins is happy with his contributions so far.

“I thought Jordan’s been fine,” Huggins said. “I wasn’t as pleased with his aggression as I needed to be, but I’m sure he’ll respond from that. He wants to play.”

The Mountaineers square off against the Cyclones in Ames at 7 p.m. ET on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

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