Juwan Staten

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Pressure defense, offensive rebounding propel No. 5 West Virginia into Sweet 16


After missing out on the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons, No. 5 West Virginia changed things up with regards to the way they played. Head coach Bob Huggins took advantage of his team’s depth and athleticism by going with full-court man to man pressure, with the team looking to cash in on resulting turnovers in order to compensate for their perimeter shooting issues.

The change has worked, as not only did the Mountaineers return to the NCAA tournament but they’ve also headed to the Sweet 16 after beating No. 4 Maryland 69-59. Sunday night West Virginia managed to force 23 turnovers against a Maryland team that played the final eight minutes of the game without injured point guard Melo Trimble (head injury).

Trimble was shaken up on two separate occasions in the second half, with the first coming on a screen set by West Virginia forward Nathan Adrian (yes, it should have been called a foul) and the second by way of a knee to the back of the head from a teammate after falling to the floor. While the Terrapins did have issues with turnovers while Trimble was on the court, it got even worse once the star freshman left the game. Maryland finished with 23 turnovers, which were converted into 26 points by West Virginia.

On the season West Virginia forces a turnover on 28.1 percent of their opponents’ possessions, a mark that ranks first in the country, but they were even better against Maryland as the Terrapins finished with a turnover percentage of 34.3 percent. Dez Wells struggled, committing eight turnovers, with Jake Layman having five himself. Despite having three turnovers himself Trimble was the player most capable of dealing with the West Virginia pressure, and losing him put Maryland in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.

The other key for West Virginia was their work on the offensive glass, as they rebounded 36.8 percent of their misses with Devin Williams grabbing three of the 14 offensive rebounds and three other players (Gary Browne, Jonathan Holton and Tarik Phillip) grabbing two apiece. Williams led four players in double figures with 16 points and ten rebounds, and as a team West Virginia scored 16 second chance points and 30 points in the paint.

And while Juwan Staten scored just six points, he also dished out six assists for the Mountaineers. Before the season began it was assumed that the senior guard would have be both the primary playmaker and scorer for this group. But while they still need Staten to score, others have stepped forward and the defense has had an impact on where West Virginia gets its offense as well.

West Virginia shot just 40 percent from the field against Maryland, but their ability to create opportunities via turnovers and offensive rebounds more than made up for that.

Next up for the Mountaineers is No. 1 Kentucky, a program West Virginia ran into in both the 2010 and 2011 NCAA tournaments. Obviously this will be a tough matchup for for Huggins’ team, as they’ll need to make shots at a higher rate than they have against the Wildcats.

To counter that they Mountaineers will attack relentlessly for 40 minutes, and while other teams do use full-court pressure you’ll be hard-pressed to find one as physical and aggressive as West Virginia. Whether or not their game plan will be good enough to beat Kentucky remains to be seen, but they won’t go down without a fight.

Tarik Phillip’s rare 3-pointer ends No. 12 Buffalo’s upset bid of No. 5 West Virginia

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Three No. 5 seeds have played and all three have advanced as the trendy No. 12 over 5 upset has yet to happen in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

Many pegged No. 12 Buffalo as a potential bracket buster, but No. 5 West Virginia was able to control the game and hold off a late-game comeback, advancing to the Round of 32 with a 68-62 win on Friday afternoon.

The Mountaineers led wire-to-wire, including a few double-digit leads, but the Bulls kept hanging around throughout the afternoon despite struggling against West Virginia’s defense. Finally, the Bulls attacked in the form of an 11-2 run with less than six minutes to play in regulation. Xavier Ford bookended the run with a pair of 3-pointers, tying the game at 62-62.

An unfortunate sequence followed for Bobby Hurley and Co. With a little over two minutes remaining, West Virginia recaptured the lead with a pair of free throws from Devin Williams. Justin Moss was called for a foul, fighting for position in the post. Certainly, that play will be talked about as a controversial call late in a tie game. On the ensuing possession, Moss got away with a foul as Williams was thrown to the floor. Moss, who made headlines earlier this year for a dunk over Willie Cauley-Stein, went for an up-and-under, but couldn’t convert on the lay-in.

Williams, found himself on the floor again moments later, although, this one helped secure the win for the Mountaineers. With a 1:02 remaining, Williams, who sprained his ankle earlier in the half, dove for the loose ball off a miss, calling timeout before the officials called a tie up. That timeout helped set up a Tarik Phillip 3-pointer, set up by Juwan Staten.

Phillip, a 20 percent 3-point shooter, hit his sixth triple of the season to put 67-62 with less than 30 seconds to play.

Williams led all scorers with 17 points and nine rebounds. Staten had 15 points and seven assists in his first game since Feb. 24. Ford had 16 points for Buffalo.

West Virginia plays the winner of No. 4 Maryland and No. 13 Valparaiso.

Freshmen Tyus Jones, Melo Trimble among finalists for Bob Cousy Award

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Friday morning the finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, annually given to the nation’s best point guard by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, were announced. Among the players on the list are two of the nation’s best freshmen, Duke’s Tyus Jones and Maryland’s Melo Trimble.

They’re the only two first-year players on the list, which includes six seniors, five juniors and four sophomores.

From a conference standpoint the Pac-12 leads the way with four finalists, with Arizona’s T.J. McConnell, Cal’s Tyrone Wallace, Utah’s Delon Wright and Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss being the players on the list. In total nine conferences are represented. Also making the cut is BYU junior Kyle Collinsworth, who has tallied an NCAA-record five triple-doubles this season.

Below is the list of finalists for the award, which was won by UConn’s Shabazz Napier last season.

2015 Bob Cousy Award Finalists

T.J. McConnell, Arizona (senior)
Kyle Collinsworth, BYU (junior)
Tyrone Wallace, California (junior)
Ryan Boatright, UConn (senior)
Tyus Jones, Duke (freshman)
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga (senior)
Keifer Sykes, Green Bay (senior)
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana (junior)
Monte Morris, Iowa State (sophomore)
Terry Rozier, Louisville (sophomore)
Melo Trimble, Maryland (freshman)
Marcus Paige, North Carolina (junior)
Kris Dunn, Providence (junior)
Delon Wright, Utah (senior)
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington (sophomore)
Juwan Staten, West Virginia (senior)
Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State (junior)

No. 21 West Virginia struggles offensively in 20-point loss at No. 14 Iowa State

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In a matchup of two of the three teams that entered Saturday tied for second place in the Big 12, No. 14 Iowa State’s ability to put points on the board was the difference in their 79-59 win over No. 21 West Virginia. While the game was a bit closer than the final margin would lead one to believe, the Cyclones took control of the game with a 14-2 run to start the second half.

Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones, one of the best offensive teams in the country, shot 56.5% from the field and outscored the Mountaineers 21-5 from the foul line. While Iowa State committed 16 turnovers, two fewer than the 18 they committed in the first meeting between the two teams (a 74-72 Cyclone win), the Cyclones finished Saturday’s game with fewer turnovers than West Virginia (19). Unlike the first meeting, in which West Virginia outscored Iowa State by three from the foul line, the Mountaineers were unable to cover up for their lackluster shooting by scoring in other areas.

Monte Morris led five Cyclones in double figures with 19 points, and Abdel Nader scored 16 points off the bench for Iowa State, which is now tied for second with Oklahoma. Juwan Staten led the Mountaineers with 16, but no other player managed to score more than nine and as a team they shot 37.9% from the field and 5-for-10 from the foul line.

Bob Huggins’ team plays incredibly hard, and the pressure defense has been a major factor in their resurgence after failing to play at the level most expected of them for most of their first two seasons in the Big 12. But they lack consistent shooters, and that’s something that gets West Virginia in trouble when they’re unable to rack up points from turnovers, second-chance opportunities and the foul line against superior offensive teams.

That was the case Saturday afternoon in Ames, and it makes Monday night’s game against No. 8 Kansas even more important.

The good news for West Virginia is that their schedule still has multiple opportunities to add to their NCAA tournament resume, with the Big 12 being considered by many as the toughest conference in the country from top to bottom. However they won’t be able to take advantage of those opportunities if they can’t get going offensively, which has been an issue in this current stretch of three losses in their last four games.

West Virginia shot 38 percent or worse in all three defeats, and winning is incredibly tough to do when shooting that poorly from the field. While there’s no issue with using your defense to spark the offense, West Virginia has to get better when they’re unable to rely on that plan.

Reserves step forward to help No. 17 Iowa State beat No. 14 West Virginia

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In his first year of eligibility after sitting out the 2013-14 campaign per NCAA transfer rules, Iowa State forward Abdel Nader hasn’t been a consistent impact player for the Cyclones. Entering Saturday’s game at No. 14 West Virginia, the former Northern Illinois player averaged just 5.0 points and 3.3 rebounds in 15.9 minutes per game. However, it should be noted that in the Cyclones’ two true road victories Nader has been an important contributor.

Saturday night Nader scored 19 points off the bench, matching the 19 points he scored in a win at Iowa December 12, helping to lead the Cyclones to a 74-72 win over the Mountaineers in Morgantown. Nader, who made six of his eleven field goal attempts, also grabbed seven rebounds to lead a group of reserves who combined to contribute 29 points and 18 rebounds.

Jameel McKay, who finished with six points and seven rebounds, also blocked five shots and the contributions of he and Nader (Matt Thomas scored four points) helped Iowa State make up for quiet nights from both Bryce Dejean-Jones and Naz Long. The two starters combined to score just nine points, shooting 3-for-10 from the field and missing all seven of their three-point attempts.

Iowa State also outscored West Virginia 32-18 in the paint, with the Mountaineers finding the task of getting quality looks inside a difficult one at times. As a result West Virginia settled for perimeter shots, attempting 29 three-pointers (nine more than their season average, and they made just seven) and shooting just 32.4% from the field. Juwan Staten scored 23 points but needed 17 shots to do so, with Devin Williams adding 14 points and 15 rebounds in a losing effort.

Saturday’s game was tight throughout, with Iowa State leading by no more than eight points and West Virginia’s largest lead being a meager three points. But Iowa State’s reserves were the difference-makers, as McKay and Nader combined to score nine points during a 9-2 second half run that turned a one-point deficit (58-57) into a six-point lead (66-60) with 3:28 remaining. And while West Virginia would trim that lead to one point on two separate occasions, they were unable to regain the lead.

Even with all five starters averaging double figures, Iowa State’s going to need contributions from their three bench players in order to contend for a Big 12 title. Saturday night they received that help from Nader and McKay, and the result was a valuable conference road victory.

Bob Huggins on Juwan Staten vomiting postgame: ‘That’s a good thing. That’s what men do’

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It looks like Bob Huggins has gotten West Virginia back to the point of being relevant nationally.

The Mountaineers are currently ranked No. 14 nationally, have lost just one game this season and are already 2-0 in the Big 12 this season. Those Big 12 wins are not overly impressive — TCU and Texas Tech, even on the road, aren’t season-defining wins — but they’re notable nonetheless given the fact that Juwan Staten had the flu on the Mountaineer road trip.

He didn’t play against TCU.

He did play against Texas Tech, but he wasn’t 100 percent.

“When I first went out there, my body felt a little weird, a little jittery, and my wind was all over the place,” Staten said. “I think I was tired right after the jump ball. The first possession I was tired. The first half, I tried to find a rhythm and juggle my conditioning. Halftime gave me a chance to sit down and rest and I feel like I came back out in the second half fresher.”

Huggins? He was a fan of this.

“When I walked in the locker room (after the game), they said, ‘Wanny’s in there throwing up in a trash can,’” Huggins said. “I said, ‘Good. That’s a good thing. That’s what men do. Men go out and do their jobs.’ That’s what men do. Don’t let a little cold bother you. Go out there and play. Sweat it out.”

It’s that kind of mindset that has turned the Mountaineers into a factor this season. This is a throwback Bob Huggins team, albeit one that is pressing full court. They’re not all that skilled and there may not be an NBA player on the roster, but they’re big and athletic and tough, and they’ll play as hard as any team in the country. You’re going to be in for a fight when you play West Virginia this season, and if there’s one thing we know about Huggy Bear, it’s that he hasn’t lost many fights in his life, and neither have his teams.

And a little cold isn’t going to bother them.