TIPOFF: K-State vs. West Virginia pregame

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Junior guard Justin Edwards makes a layup off an assist from sophomore guard Nigel Johnson in the second half of the Wildcats' 63-53 defeat of the Cowboys January 24, 2015, in Bramlage Coliseum. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Jan. 27 has probably been scribbled out on West Virginia’s calendar. Earlier this month, this matchup was a one-sided affair, one you would pencil down as a win. Since then, however, K-State has rattled off five conference wins and now faces the No. 3-ranked team in the conference as one of the two teams positioned in front of them.

That being said, here’s who now has the advantage and how the two teams match up:

Front court: K-State

The Wildcats have struggled rebounding the ball this season and West Virginia has a considerable edge on the boards. Naturally, one would think the Mountaineers are favorites in the front court, especially with a scorer like senior Jonathan Holton, who (as a senior) is averaging 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Nino Williams has changed all of that. The senior forward has been a pillar for K-State all season, and the past two weeks he’s looked like one of the conference’s best players.

Williams has hit the 20-point mark in his last two games. His midrange game is among the best in the country, and his ability to extend defenses is unrivaled in the Big 12.

West Virginia will be forced to key on Williams. He’s simply too talented to leave unguarded between 10-15 feet from the basket. That should open the door for senior Thomas Gipson to have a big game underneath and sophomore Marcus Foster on the outside.

Back court: West Virginia

If you had to find a word to describe the Mountaineers’ back court, it would be “pesky.” Head coach Bob Huggins’ bench is 10-deep and for good reason: all contribute.

West Virginia is averaging almost 13 steals per game, and surprisingly, no one player is averaging more than 2.1 a contest. Similarly, the Mountaineers are averaging 15 assists per game, but only star senior guard Juwan Staten is averaging more than two a game.

With a batch of contributors, Huggins has the players to go to. He’s also blessed with a player like Staten on his team, who ranks fourth in the conference with 15.2 points per game.

K-State has struggled at the point guard position at times this season. The team has also been lackadaisical with handling the ball. With the ability to score, steal and assist the ball, West Virginia has the upper hand in the back court.

K-State X-Factor: Justin Edwards

Edwards needed time. The Big 12 is a beast of its own. The junior also needed to take the pressure off himself. “Let the game come to me,” in his own words.

With seven conference games under his belt and some confidence, Edwards is beginning to showcase why he was so highly touted out of Maine as a transfer. In K-State’s last five games, the Ontario native is averaging 9.6 points per game. Yes, he’s shooting the ball better from the outside, but more importantly, he’s driving hard to the basket and adding an entirely new dimension to the K-State offense.

Edwards will need to do much of the same against the Mountaineers if K-State hopes to knock of yet another ranked Big 12 opponent. And with the focus on Foster, Gipson and, now, Williams, Edwards will have the opportunities and space to contribute.

West Virginia X-Factor: Daxter Miles Jr.

In West Virginia’s last two losses, freshman Miles has totaled just three points on 1-8 shooting. The freshman returned to form Saturday in the Mountaineer’s overtime win against TCU, tallying 10 points. But 7 points in the three games prior is alarming for a starter who isn’t known for assisting the ball.

If Miles is able to get going, West Virginia can be overwhelming on the offensive end with Staten and Holton regularly scoring in double-digits. But K-State’s defense has been excellent defensively, limiting teams to production only from their stars.

On the road in the Big 12, West Virginia will need more from players like Miles if the team wishes to leave Bramlage Coliseum with another conference road win.

Matchup to watch: Foster vs. Staten

The two can score at will, but which one can best the other on the defensive end with the game on the line?

Tate Steinlage is a junior in mass communications.

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