Tonight's game is a bit like a long back to back in the NBA, as it is the longest road trip possible for Kansas. The Jayhawks made a 3 hour, 30 minute flight to Lubbock, the western most point in the Big 12 footprint, and now have to make the 4 hour and 35 minute flight to Morgantown, the eastern most point in the Big 12 footprint.
What complicates matters even more is that West Virginia is good. The Mountaineers sit 10th in KenPom and like the Jayhawks are 3-0 in Big 12 play. The Mountaineers will put KU's newfound penchant for rebounding and taking care of the ball to the test, as they rank 1st in the nation in both offensive rebounding and turnover percentage forced. Last season West Virginia narrowly knocked off the Jayhawks in Morgantown, but it should be noted that the press wasn't really the problem. Kansas turned it over on a fourth of its possessions, but that was less than West Virginia forced both all season and in Big 12 play. Where the Jayhawks were killed was on the glass: West Virginia grabbed an insane 51 percent of its misses. If the Jayhawks do that again, they're walking out of there with a loss for the third straight year. Thankfully Juwan Staten, better known as the only player in Big 12 history allowed to take 8 steps without dribbling, isn't around this season.
If Kansas can consistently beat the press, it can probably score on West Virginia. The Mountaineers rank 227th in 2-point defense, and while they are allowing opponents to shoot just 25 percent from three, they allow an average number of threes so there probably is some luck there. If Kansas can get the press scrambling I think they'll see some open looks from deep.
Unlike last season, West Virginia is a decent shooting team. The Mountaineers still can't hit from deep (31.5 percent) but do shoot 55 percent inside the arc. Of course, it's a lot easier to do that when you rebound 45 percent of your misses and create a lot of putback type situations. The Jayhawks currently rank 40th nationally on the defensive glass, allowing opponents to rebound just 26 percent of their misses, but they have faced a few teams that don't really go after the glass, and certainly not like West Virginia will, so I think it's advantage Mountaineers on that end.
Lastly, the giant elephant in the room whenever West Virginia plays is the fouls. The Mountaineers are dead last in the nation at sending teams to the free throw line, allowing a 59.4 percent free throw rate, and very much dead last in the Big 12, allowing a free throw rate of 72.4 in big 12 play. That means that for every 100 shots opponents are taking in Big 12 play they are taking 72.4 free throws (and for every 100 for the season they're taking 59.4 free throws). And that's not even taking into account the fouls West Virginia doesn't get called for. It's probably going to be a long game and while I expect Kansas to shoot a lot of free throws, I also expect West Virginia to get away with a few.
Players to Watch
Devin Williams has put together an all Big 12 level season, shooting 54 percent from two while attempting almost a fourth of the team's shots while he's on the court, and he's also a very good rebounder, ranking 29th nationally in offensive rebounding and 24th in defensive rebounding. Williams also draws 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes, so no doubt he will be active tonight.
Jonathan Holton leads the nation in offensive rebounding, so like Rico Gathers Kansas will have its hands full trying to keep an elite rebounder off the glass. Holton is shooting 62 percent on twos as well.
Jevon Carter is West Virginia's main threat from deep, shooting 37 percent on 67 attempts from three. Carter also ranks 31st nationally in steal percentage. Frank Mason will definitely have his hands full on both ends of the floor against Carter.
Kansas matches up fairly well with West Virginia. The Jayhawks haven't turned it over much this season, and with Mason and Devonte Graham they have one of the best backcourts in the country. I'm not as afraid of that as I am the rebounding. I still don't buy KU's improvement on the glass, especially if Self has to play with Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor in the frontcourt for long stretches. If Cheick Diallo were more integrated into the lineup I think this would be a good game for him to play and utilize his rebounding ability, but that pressure will make it tough on the freshman. Believe it or not Texas Tech is the only team under Bill Self to beat Kansas 3 straight times at their place (shout out to @stinsonfrank for getting the question correct) but even though Kansas is better this year than last year, and I think matches up better with WVU than people think, a long road trip scares me and I am picking the Jayhawks to drop a close one, 81-85.