Jaysean Paige netted 34 points and Tarik Phillip added 22 points and six assists as No. 14 West Virginia bounced back from a pair of losses last week to take out No. 17 Iowa State, 97-87.
At this point, it’s fair to say that the Mountaineers are just a horrid matchup for the Cyclones.
On the one hand, Iowa State is not — and, during their resurgence over the course of the last five or six years, has not been — a good defensive team. This group may be worse than any that Fred Hoiberg had, and the Mountaineers took advantage. Paige and Phillip both come off the bench for Bobby Huggins’ team, but those are his two best back court players. On Monday, they both posted career-highs, as the Cyclones didn’t have an answer for either of them.
But there may be a reason for that.
It’s not exactly a secret that Iowa State doesn’t have any depth. It was a major concern entering the year, and that was before they lost Naz Long to a hip issue. Hallice Cooke hasn’t had the impact that he was expected to this season, Deonte Burton didn’t get eligible until midway through the year and that just so happened to coincide with the start of Jameel McKay’s “flakiness” in practice.
They’ve had a five- or six-man rotation all season long, which has undoubtedly taken a toll on the legs of Georges Niang and Monte’ Morris, and never was that more problematic than when they were asked to go up against a West Virginia team that goes ten-deep and has built a system around trying to wear out their opponent with full court pressure.
I feel for Steve Prohm, who is going to bear the brunt of what will amount to a failure of a season in the eyes of his fan base — they entered the year with Final Four expectations and currently sit at 8-7 in the Big 12, which is not something that is going to be easy to swallow in Ames, not when Iowa looks like a top ten team. And I feel for Niang and Morris, who have been two of the most entertaining players in the country to watch this season, because barring some kind of a miracle, this is an Iowa State team whose ceiling feels like the Sweet 16.
One last note on West Virginia: Nathan Adrian has been a really nice spark for them. He’s seen an increase in minutes over the course of the last month, and he’s played with an unbelievable amount of confidence. He’s hitting threes, he’s playing the point on their press and he’s able to guard three different positions. I didn’t see that coming from him.