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Huggins expects grind-it-out battle today at Kansas State

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - In some ways it's easy to see why Kansas State has lost just four times this season and won 11 of its last 12.

In other ways? Well, that's a bit of a mystery.

At least statistically speaking, Kansas State is feast or famine. The Wildcats (13-4, 3-1 Big 12), who host West Virginia (10-7, 2-2) in a 1:30 p.m. (ET) game today in Manhattan, Kan., are first in the league in fewest points allowed and 3-point shooting percentage defense and second in overall field goal defense.

Obviously K-State can guard a little bit.

On the flip side, though, the Wildcats are also dead last in every shooting-percentage category - field goals, 3-pointers and free throws. They don't score much and don't block shots (ninth in both) and aren't especially proficient in steals (sixth). Those last are often areas in which truly good defensive teams excel.

The logical extrapolation from all of those numbers is that Kansas State probably just slows the pace and grinds teams down. At least Bob Huggins sees it pretty much that way, although that's not meant to disparage the program that he coached for a year before arriving at West Virginia in 2007. If anyone can appreciate a hard-nosed defensive team it is Huggins.

"A lot of times scoring averages are related more to how fast you play,'' Huggins said. "It's not that they don't get out and run when they have opportunities, but they don't play as fast as a lot of people play. There's not as many possessions.

"But they still do a great job. They gang-guard you. They do a great job with help and sitting in gaps. If they're going to give up anything it's going to be perimeter shots.''

Thus the low shooting percentages to which Kansas State is holding opponents - just 39.9 percent overall and 26.7 on 3-pointers. It's not necessarily that teams shoot any differently from the perimeter against K-State than against anyone else, but if the Wildcats can cut down on the number of inside shots that are surrendered, shooting percentages are naturally going to decline because teams are shooting a higher number of longer shots.

How that affects West Virginia today is anyone's guess. On one hand, it would appear that a team like Kansas State that clamps down on the inside and forces teams to shoot from the perimeter would be susceptible to a perimeter-oriented team like West Virginia. On the other, if a team isn't much of a threat on the inside, the Wildcats can commit more defensive resources to the perimeter.

And West Virginia doesn't have much of a threat inside.

"No,'' Huggins said. "Unfortunately we don't.''

The answer, of course is to make those perimeter shots. Do that and defenses have to come out further, and cutting down on those gaps becomes harder. That's when a team like West Virginia can then use its guards to get to the basket.

The trouble is, West Virginia isn't making a lot of shots lately. In consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and Texas, the Mountaineers made 41.4 and 37.7 percent of their shots and only 12 of 44 (27.2 percent) 3-pointers. It's probably not a good omen that as poorly as WVU shot 3-pointers in those two games, Kansas State is holding its opponents to an even lower success rate.

But Huggins will still try. What other choice does he have?

"If we can ever get guys that are capable of making shots all making shots at one time, we can really spread people out,'' Huggins said. "[But that means] Nathan [Adrian] starting to shoot the ball the way he's capable, and Remi [Dibo] and Terry [Henderson] and Eron [Harris].

"And for that matter, even Devin [Williams] has shown he can be a pretty consistent 15-, 16-foot jump shooter.''

West Virginia, though, won't give up trying to get to the basket. The Mountaineers have to. For much the same reason that Kansas State is holding teams to a low shooting percentage because it cuts down on opponents' inside shots, West Virginia is shooting a low percentage because it can't get to the basket. The Mountaineers are relying far too much on perimeter shooting and aren't getting it sometimes.

Monday's 4-for-25 3-point-shooting performance in a loss to Texas is a prime example.

"We have to stop relying on the 3-pointer so much,'' said point guard Juwan Staten, himself only a minor threat from that range but still tied for the team scoring lead (with Harris at 17.4 points per game), in part, because he gets to the basket so well. "Sometimes we can get away with that. But when the ball isn't going in, we need to find another way.''

  • BRIEFLY: If Kansas State has anything approaching a star it might be true freshman guard Marcus Foster, leading the team in scoring (13.9 points) and 3-pointers. Foster and Kansas phenom Andrew Wiggins are the only two freshmen among the Big 12's top 20 scorers. ... K-State's three-guard lineup also includes senior guards Shane Southwell and Will Spradling, along with lanky 6-7 freshman Wesley Iwundu and 6-7, 265-pound junior Thomas Gipson. ... West Virginia returns home to play Texas Tech Wednesday night, then next weekend embarks on a Saturday-Tuesday, stay-on-the-road trip to Oklahoma State and Baylor.
  • Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

     


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