No. 10 West Virginia opens season-closing homestand against Kansas State

Gold and Blue Nation

West Virginia men’s hoops is back home to host Kansas State for the final stretch of its 2020-21 regular season. The 10th-ranked Mountaineers tip off at 4 p.m. on ESPN2.

Big 12 Tournament seeding is falling into place as the month of March comes into view, capping off a wild regular season. WVU (16-6, 9-4 Big 12) is currently slotted in a narrow spot for the two-seed, just above Kansas. In an interesting twist for the pandemic season, though, seeding is based on win percentage rather than actual conference record in order to account for the disparity in games played.

With that in mind, that two-seed is far from certain for the Mountaineers as five teams have the opportunity to jump them for that spot. West Virginia does have the home court advantage, however, as all four of their games to end the season are at home — and the stand starts with Saturday’s clash against Kansas State.

The Wildcats (7-18, 3-13 Big 12) are in the midst of a down year and are not among the five that can overtake WVU in the standings. They have shown a lot of promise so far with a young roster, which reminds WVU coach Bob Huggins of time for his team not too long ago.

“I told our guys yesterday, they are very similar to what Jordan [McCabe], Emmitt [Matthews Jr.], Derek [Culver], that crew was for us [in 2018-19],” he said. “We struggled early, and by the end of the regular season, we go make a run in the conference tournament because those guys had grown up a lot. I think that’s where K-State is, they’ve grown up.”

WVU coasted by the Wildcats 69-47 as they forced 28 turnovers in Manhattan, getting 28 points from them. Senior Mike McGuirl was K-State’s leading scorer with 15 points, while freshman guard Selton Miguel was the only other double-digit scorer with 10.

Since that time though, as Huggins noted, the Wildcats have seemed to make some turnarounds. They recently defeated TCU for their first victory in over a month, then followed that up with a narrow loss to Oklahoma by just five points.

“McGuirl against Oklahoma made three threes down the stretch, and he’s really their only veteran, their only senior,” Huggins said. “But their young kids are playing really well.”

This time around, WVU will have to stop leading scorer Nijel Pack, who missed the first contest due to COVID-19.

Defeating West Virginia at home will be a tough task for Kansas State, however. The Mountaineers are coming off arguably its toughest stretch of games this season, notching three ranked wins in February, two of which came on the road, and a loss to Oklahoma in double overtime.

WVU has relied on a lot of strong individual performances for this success so far. Miles McBride was named Big 12 Player of the Week after helping to lead the Mountaineers over Texas, marking the third straight WVU hooper to earn the nod after Sean McNeil for the week of Feb. 15, and McBride again a week prior.

Culver, WVU’s star center, will be looking to get high numbers after a tough outing in the first meeting with K-State (8 points, 4 rebounds). The junior (who coincidentally was named Big 12 Player of the Week in November) has hit a stride with his physical play, most recently adding 18 points and 14 rebounds in his team’s win over TCU.

West Virginia and Kansas State tip off at the WVU Coliseum on Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN2.

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