Big 12 basketball has already proven to be a grind.
That was proven last Saturday when K-State couldn’t pull away from Oklahoma State until the losing two minutes, and proven again Wednesday night when Kansas needed an overtime to defeat Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse, and when West Virginia went on the road to defeat Texas in an extra period.
Former Wildcat coach Frank Martin used to say, “Winning Big 12 basketball games is hard.”
And entering the 2013 league season, first-year Wildcat coach Bruce Weber used the word “battle” to define what every conference game will be like.
“I heard coach Saben (Nick, Alabama football) talk about the importance of constantly challenging your will and the importance of consistency,” said Weber. “There’s such great balance in this league that you have to be ready to play. If you’re not ready, somebody’s going to get you.”
K-State’s next battle will come in a 12:30 tipoff Saturday in Morgantown, W.V., where the 1-0, 12-2 and No. 18 ranked Wildcats will go up against Bob Huggins’ 1-1, 8-6 West Virginia Mountaineers.
When thinking of Huggins-coached teams, Weber said, “You know they’re going to be physical, hard-nosed and tough. They over-play a lot and are aggressive.”
While primarily a man-defensive coach, Huggins went to a 1-3-1 zone against Texas and limited the Longhorns to just 53 points on 34 percent shooting.
At the other end, the Mountaineers had struggles of their own hitting just 31 percent, which included 3-of-20 from 3-point range in scoring 57 points.
“They haven’t shot it well, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make some 3s,” said Weber. “They’re still major Division I basketball players, but a lot of their stuff does come in the paint. Coach Huggins likes to dribble-drive, so if they get in the paint, we’re probably going to be in trouble.”
As always, Weber added, that the game will likely come down to a battle of the boards and defending the basket.
West Virginia is the poorest shooting team in the league netting just 39 percent for the year, which includes a chilly 27 percent from 3-point range as they average just four treys per game.
The Mountaineers feature size with 6-10, 245-pound Aaric Murray and 6-9, 265--pound Deniz Kilicli. It’s a team with two 10-point scorers serving as leaders in Murray and 6-1 guard Juwan Staten.
Whether a grind or a battle, Weber said of the task at hand, “We just need to find a way to win. We have to be ready for a war.”
K-State’s Rodney McGruder was recognized not only as the Big 12 Conference Player of the Week, but also the ESPN National Player of the Week following his 28-point effort against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Of those tallies, 26 came in the second half.
“Rodney had a special game. He’s our star-power guy,” said Weber. “The national award not only says a lot for him, but also gives our program some national attention.”
On how McGruder has matured into the program as a senior leader, Weber said, “He’s more of an action guy, but has on occasion called some people out. When he does that, what’s the old expression, ‘When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.’ If Rod does it, it’s not the same guy always talking. I think the guys respect it more coming from him.
“The guys respect how hard he plays, how he plays defense, how he plays to win,” said Weber. “That’s what we keep telling him, you don’t have to be loud and boisterous … even a whisper means a lot when you say the right thing. It can change a locker room. That’s the senior’s job.”