West Virginia men’s basketball is on the road for the final time this season with the hopes of earning their 20th win of the season against Iowa State on Tuesday night.
Things haven’t gone too well for the Mountaineers since they last met the Cyclones. After the 76-61 victory in Morgantown on Feb. 5, WVU has gone 1-6 while taking their first two losses at home in that span. That span dropped the Mountaineers from 6-3 in conference to 7-9, jeopardizing their first round bye in the Big 12 Tournament and bouncing them from the AP Top 25. The most damaging of all, though, is the fact that the Mountaineers have gone from a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament to a projected 7-seed.
They’re still hanging on in the important NET rankings, where they’re ranked 21st. That’s a testament to their success in the early season, and it’s important to remember that success when heading into the postseason.
“If you look at our non-conference schedule, we probably have five teams maybe that are gonna win their league,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “That does nothing but help you. I think you have to look at the overall picture because that’s what you’re judged by. You can’t just look at, you know, we’ve struggled here of late. We have, you know…but the reality is, we’ve fallen from a 2-seed to a seven, but seven’s a long, long way from not being in the tournament.”
Regardless of how the deck is shuffled right now, Huggins recognizes the importance of winning games, and they get an important opportunity for that in Ames.
The Cyclones have been hurt recently, especially with the season-ending injury to projected NBA Lottery pick Tyrese Haliburton. For a team that has likewise been struggling through conference play, that’s a humongous loss to take as he led the team in scoring, assists and rebounds before going down.
Luckily for Steve Prohm’s squad, they have been able to find offense from other players like Solomon Young, who has put together a pair of 20-point games since the injury to Haliburton. As a team, though, Huggins anticipates that the Cyclones won’t struggle to put points on the board on their home floor.
“I can’t remember playing at Iowa State when they didn’t make shots. They’ve always made shots,” he said. “I think Haliburton was a creator for them, I think they’ve gone to maybe running more sets and things now that they don’t have him to create. But they’re still gonna try to score in transition and…they make shots.”
Making shots is something that West Virginia has really struggled to do in conference play, and that showed in their Saturday home loss to Oklahoma. The Mountaineers made 34 percent of their field goals, making it their sixth game in which they’ve shot less than 40 percent from the floor.
No matter how they get it done, though, the Mountaineers know they have just one job from here on out.
“We need to win. We need to win for a lot of reasons. I don’t know home or road, I don’t know if that matters. We just really need to win,” Huggins said.
The action tips off at 9 p.m. at the James H. Hilton Coliseum. It will be broadcast on TV on ESPNU, while Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs will have the radio call on the Mountaineer Sports Network by Learfield IMG. WVi’s Anjelica Trinone will be at the Hilton Coliseum and will have updates on social media during and highlights after the game, while we will also have our live game log right here on WVIllustrated.com.