WVU basketball: Mountaineers, Cyclones try to get most out of transfers
AMES, Iowa -- It's possible that when Iowa State and West Virginia play tonight, the two best players on each team were the two best practice players last year.
The Cyclones and the Mountaineers enter the 9 p.m. game (ESPN2) inside the Hilton Coliseum following the lead of transfers who sat out in 2011-12.
Iowa State (11-4, 1-1 Big 12) features four Division I transfers. One leads the team in scoring, one is the starting point guard, one plays the most minutes and has the best assist-turnover ratio for an up-tempo team and one is the top reserve.
And for effect, a junior college transfer is Big 12's most prolific and most accurate 3-point shooter.
"We'll always look at it and try to find out what makes the most sense for the program and to have long-term success," said Coach Fred Hoiberg, who has brought eight Division I transfers to campus in his three seasons. "For us, it was pretty important to get to the next level and where we needed to be to compete in the Big 12 Conference.
"It's something we'll certainly continue to look at. There were a couple this year we missed on that ended up going to big-time programs."
The Mountaineers (8-7, 1-2) have three Division I transfers. Center Aaric Murray leads the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), while point guard Juwan Staten is second (10.5) and leads the team with 2.9 assists per game.
Both have found their coach's bad side this season.
"Everybody's got to be on the same page," West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins said. "When everyone isn't on the same page, you don't have a very good team. But we all make mistakes."
Huggins benched Staten, who played one season at Dayton, for the second half of last week's win at Texas and then the entire home loss to Kansas State.
He said Staten will travel for tonight's game, but has repeated Staten will not play until he's on the same page with his coach and teammates.
Huggins left Murray, who played two seasons at La Salle, on campus when the Mountaineers traveled to Brooklyn, N.Y., for a loss to Michigan. Murray has averaged 12.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in the five games since and has played 24 and 26 minutes the past two games off the bench.
"We very well could bring him off the bench," Huggins said. "He's getting better. We've got to get him to not take some plays off, but I think he's getting better."
Dominique Rutledge has started for Murray the past two games. He's a second-season junior college transfer. Senior Matt Humphrey is a transfer from Boston College, but he's only played in eight games and hasn't seen a minute in the past four.
Staten, Murray and Humphrey are the only Division I transfers Huggins has taken in six seasons at WVU. He had many when he started at Akron and then featured a few in large roles with Cincinnati.
"I like it," he said. "It's just that with us going from 15 scholarships to 13 scholarships (in 1993-94), you're trying to fill needs and then a transfer happens after the season is over with and a lot of the time you've already filled your allotment of scholarships."
Hoiberg, who'd never coached but had worked in the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves when he took the Cyclones job in 2010, brought four Division I transfers to his campus that season.
Each sat out, but former Minnesota forward Royce White played well enough last season to go to the NBA as a first-round pick. Michigan State transfer Chris Allen was a senior last season and averaged 12.2 points and made a team-high 76 3-pointers as the Cyclones went from to 16-16 with a first-round NIT loss in 2010-11 to 23-11 and a tough second-round NCAA Tournament loss to eventual champion Kentucky last season.
"When we had the four of them out, they were able to build great chemistry sitting out together, not just practicing when they'd play together on the scout team," Hoiberg said. "When the team would go on the road, they'd be back watching games together and critiquing the team and working out together. That was all very valuable."
Two of those four transfers remain. Penn State transfer Chris Babb has played more than anyone this season and has 32 assists and 12 turnovers. Southern Illinois transfer Anthony Booker usually comes off the bench first and averages 4.7 points and 4.0 rebounds.
Two others have arrived. Former Utah forward Will Clyburn averages a team-high 14.3 points and adds 7.5 rebounds for the Big 12's top rebounding team, even though he's a 6-foot-6 small forward. Former Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious starts and averages 10.1 points and 5.4 assists.
Lucious played on two Final Four teams while with the Spartans, but was suspended for the remainder of the schedule in the middle of the 2010-11 season.
"I think he was pressing early on this season when he was very excited to get back out and play after the year off," Hoiberg said. "He's really calmed down from where he was early on this year - not that he was playing horribly early this season. He was just making too many risky passes.
"We were always confident in him and with him and it's paying off now. He's making a lot of great plays and setting a lot of them up."
Lucious is a senior, but Hoiberg may have his replacement in former Southern Cal point guard Maurice Jones. He led the Trojans scoring (13.0), assists (111), steals (56) and 3-pointers (52).
"I think it's the landscape of college basketball," Hoiberg said. "There are so many transfers now and if you can get a kid in and you feel he's going to be a good fit for your team, you take a look at it."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com.