MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia men’s basketball has another tough test on Saturday when it hosts No. 11 Iowa State at the WVU Coliseum.
The Mountaineers are on a good stretch of form having won four of their last six games after a dismal start to the Big 12 schedule. WVU has gotten some big individual performances in that stretch after the team underwent a few changes, both at the macro and micro levels.
Hear what head coach Bob Huggins had to say ahead of the clash:
Stevenson’s growth and hot streak
Guard Erik Stevenson has stolen the show for West Virginia in its last three games, topping its scoring column and recording two 30-point games in that stretch. That broke a tough skid for the fifth-year, who previously recorded five straight games with a field goal percentage under 40 percent.
Stevenson has calmed down in recent games compared to the beginning of conference play when he fouled out of two games with a pair of technical fouls.
“Don’t you think he had to?” Huggins said. “He had to. I mean it’s one thing to be assertive and aggressive, but you can take it too far, and I think he realizes.”
Huggins facilitated that move by connecting Stevenson with former WVU star and current Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Mike Gansey. Part of that, the coach said, is he simply got tired of hearing “Erik’s voice,” which is common in sports.
“If you get a chance to talk to the general manager of a team, you’re pretty excited about it,” Huggins said.
Gansey provides value even beyond his title as an NBA executive.
“Mike’s got a calming effect on people,” Huggins added. “He’s not loud, he’s kind of just straight to the point.”
Previewing the Cyclones
In stark contrast to many of WVU’s opponents in the Big 12, Iowa State has succeeded in slowing the game down. The Cyclones sit second in the league standings behind its top defense but simultaneously sit low on the offensive scoring chart, amassing 70.7 points per game.
This is deliberate, according to WVU’s coach.
“Offensively, they run good stuff so they don’t put [themselves] in bad positions on transition,” Huggins said. “They’re a really good transition defensive team, and so everybody has to play against their set defense. And they’ve got really good shot-blockers.”
Osun Osunniyi, a 6-10 transfer from St. Bonaventure, sends back at least a shot per game and is one of three players in the Cyclone frontcourt that stands over 6-foot-9.
This pays off on the glass, too, as Iowa State posts a plus-2.9 average rebounding margin. Opponents grab just 30.9 boards per game, tied with WVU at the top of the Big 12’s list.
“They take really good shots when they shoot,” Huggins said. “They don’t take bad shots.”
Iowa State’s good fortune is, Huggins added, due to a “heck of a good” coaching job by second-year coach TJ Otzelberger.