Big 12 battle for No. 2 at stake Friday night in Morgantown


Highlights

Red-hot Iowa State and West Virginia a contrast in styles.

Baylor can do no better than No. 3 despite national ranking.

Tech, TCU, K-State try to avoid playing in Big 12’s 1st round.

King Kansas is old news. Now the Big 12 turns its attention to the next best thing — second place, which goes to the winner of Friday night’s Iowa State at West Virginia game.

Several weeks ago, Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said on a conference call that he hoped his team would finish fourth. After winning six in a row, the ‘Clones can do much better than that.

“Offensively we’re in rhythm, but West Virginia is a team that can disrupt whatever flow you have,” Prohm said.

Iowa State is one of the most entertaining teams in the country because Monte’ Morris orchestrates with the best of the point guards and a bunch of Cyclones can shoot up a storm. Morris has an astounding ratio of 63 assists to five turnovers in the last eight games. His 6.2 assist-to-turnover ratio is set to shatter the Big 12 record of 4.8. He also just passed Jeff Hornacek as the school’s all-time leading steals man.

Bullish guard Deonte Burton has heated up with 42 points in his last two games, and Matt Thomas is coming off a 25-point night that included seven three-pointers.

All three are seniors, as is Naz Mitrou-Long, the team’s second-leading scorer at 15.8 behind Morris’ 16.1.

Four senior starters. How rare is that at a power conference school?

“You’re not going to fool those guys. They are smart and don’t get rattled,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.

Yet the Mountaineers are favored to grab the second seed in the Big 12 because they already handled the Cyclones 85-72 in Ames and they’ll likely pummel them on the boards. The Clones start just one interior player, 6-8 freshman Solomon Young, who has given them a lift since joining the starting lineup last month.

“He got hurt early, but he can defend, rebound and score,” Prohm said. “Solomon gives us a blue-collar presence we need.”

West Virginia leads the nation in turnover margin (plus 9.2), turnovers forced (21.4) and steals (10.9).

Friday night’s loser will fall to the fourth seed for next week’s conference tournament assuming Baylor handles Texas to take the No. 3 seed.

The other four regular-season finales are Saturday. The seedings for No. 1 Kansas and No. 5 Oklahoma State are etched in stone — appropriate because they face each other in Stillwater — while the other eight spots remain unsettled.

Kansas State’s home game with Texas Tech has the most on the line because the Wildcats (18-12, 7-10) have gotten back into the conversation for an NCAA Tournament berth. But only if they win Saturday and maybe twice more next week.

“With the strength of our league, I think eight conference wins should get you into the tournament,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said.

Right now, Planting The Seeds, the American-Statesman’s NCAA projections, has the Big 12 with just five bids, with Oklahoma State at the cutoff point.

Tech (18-12, 6-11) appears to have fallen out of the running. The Red Raiders, Wildcats and TCU, which is at Oklahoma, hope to avoid playing in Kansas City next Wednesday, the first day of the tournament. Only one will avoid that fate.



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