While Texas Tech was A road test, this game against West Virginia is the first REAL tough road test of the Big 12 conference season (no offense meant to the Red Raiders, but they aren’t ranked, yet). To help prepare us for tonight’s game, I reached out to Matthew Kirchner over at The Smoking Musket, SB Nation’s site that covers the West Virginia Mountaineers. He was kind enough to respond on short notice to our inquiries.
RCT: After losing a talent like Juwan Staten, who led the team in points per game and assists per game last year and was an excellent defender, what were the expectations for this team coming into the year?
SM: Expectations were still high, honestly. We played without Staten for a while at the end of the regular season last year, and the team performed fantastically, even giving KU a fight at Allen Fieldhouse.
We only lost Staten and Gary Browne, returning every other contributor from a very good team and gaining some help through our recruiting class.
So the expectations were very high, and we have been able to meet them all so far.
RCT: Last year's defense was phenomenal, but this year has been even better. Do you attribute most of that success to the defensive scheme of Bob Huggins, or the improvement/addition of players coming into the year?
SM: Bob Huggins is a magician, but having the players in this system for a second straight season has been huge.
All our guys know exactly where they need to be at all times and they're out there executing as one cohesive unit. It's really fascinating to watch.
RCT: This game is between the last two teams undefeated in Big 12 play. With the conference looking to be as tough as it has ever been, where do you see the Mountaineers in the league hierarchy this year? And just how big is the top tier of this league?
SM: I think that there's a four team top hierarchy in the Big 12 this year. Anyone is capable of big wins, but I think that Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Iowa State sit above the rest.
Kansas is probably going to end up on top of the heap but it will be a fight.
RCT: Kansas has likely one of the best backcourts in the country, with Wayne Selden's offensive game coming on in a big way this year, and the tandem of Selden, Frank Mason and Devonte Graham locking down the perimeter defensively. What weapons does West Virginia have to combat that lineup, or do they instead focus on the play inside?
SM: West Virginia's guard depth is actually deeper than I've ever seen. Jevon Carter, Dax Miles, Jay'Sean Paige, Tarik Phillip, and Teyvon Myers can all come to play with very little drop off. WVU's definitely going to try to run through Dev Williams but if it comes down to a fight between guards, WVU is definitely well armed.
RCT: Let's get a score prediction. Any road game is going to be tough this year, but does West Virginia have enough to defend it's home floor against the top team in the country? Which matchup do you see affecting the final outcome of the game the most?
SM: Conventional wisdom is that Kansas wins a close one, 90-85 or so.
But, man, I woke up this morning and it was a snowy day in Morgantown not unlike a day last winter and I got a feeling. WVU 93 Kansas 90 just because.
RCT: Bonus - Star Wars or Star Trek?
SM: ALL WARS EVERYTHING.
A special thanks to Matthew for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for me to get and answer questions for him, but you can always jump on over to The Smoking Musket to get more WVU-centric coverage of the game tonight.