Both the “eye test” and the numbers will tell you this West Virginia University men’s basketball team has been very good.
To get where the No. 12 Mountaineers ultimately want to be, with the first stop along the way being a Big 12 regular-season championship, WVU can’t get caught looking ahead or underestimating any opponents.
After a 3-1 start in league play, West Virginia now turns its attention to Kansas State. The Wildcats (7-9, 0-4 Big 12) host the Mountaineers Saturday afternoon (2 p.m. on ESPNU) still in search of their first win against a conference opponent this season.
In those four losses — at Oklahoma, at home against TCU, at Texas and at home earlier this week against Texas Tech — K-State has been close a few times. The Wildcats played both OU and TCU close before double-digit losses in their last two tries.
“Pretty much a typical Bruce Weber team,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said during a Friday media teleconference. “They guard. They run good offense. They’re fundamentally very sound. Hard to score on, don’t give you anything easy.”
K-State has been the Big 12’s lowest scoring team this season, averaging just 64.5 points per game. The Wildcats’ defense, which allows 61.81 points per game, ranks No. 43 in the country in defensive efficiency — which is a metric used to determine how many points a team allows per 100 possessions — at .890.
To get an idea of just how good the defense has been in the Big 12 this season, there are seven teams from the league ahead of Kansas State in that category. WVU, for example, leads the Big 12 and is No. 3 overall with a defensive efficiency of .827 — which means per 100 possessions against, the Mountaineers would allow an average of 82.7 points. In Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings — the “adjusted” part adds the caveat of points allowed per 100 possessions against an average team this season — West Virginia leads the country at 82.6.
“In a lot of instances, your offense makes your defense better because you shorten the game so much if you play until late in the shot clock like some people do,” Huggins said. “Your opponent isn’t going to score as many points, and I think to a degree in our league, we’re just not shooting it as quickly as we once did.”
When defensive numbers rise across the board like has happened this season, offensive statistics are going to drop. As it currently stands, WVU ranks No. 49 in Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency at 107.1. That number would have ranked in the 100s last season.
“They’re not extending defenses the way people extended defenses in the past,” Huggins said. “I don’t know if moving the 3-point line that little bit has made that much of a difference or not, but I don’t see people being as consistent making 3s as what they were a year ago.”
That bodes well for this defensive-minded WVU team and perhaps not so well for Kansas State, especially right now. K-State is next to last in the Big 12 with a .417 field goal percentage, while WVU tops the league in field goal defense.
Senior forward Xavier Sneed leads the Wildcats at 14.6 points per game while redshirt junior guard Cartier Diarra averages 12.6. Last time out in the loss to Texas Tech, Sneed scored 14 points but needed seven made foul shots to get there with a 3-of-8 shooting performance from the field. Diarra finished that game as K-State’s leading scorer at 19 points with a much more efficient 7-of-11 mark from the floor.
“They haven’t been shooting the ball well,” Huggins said of the Wildcats. “And they’re playing a bunch of young guys. They lost a lot. You look at the people they lost — they lost two of maybe the best players [Barry Brown and Dean Wade] to play there, ever.”