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West Virginia Preview

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest week of the season thus far tips off tonight with Kansas looking to avenge an earlier loss to West Virginia. The Jayhawks sit a game back of the Mountaineers, and with wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma on Saturday Kansas can take a massive step towards winning the Big 12.

West Virginia might be without Jonathan Holton tonight, which seems like a good thing given that he leads the Big 12 in 2-point shooting and is 3rd in offensive rebounding. Still, West Virginia will be no slouch even without him. The Mountaineers lead the league defensively, allowing .96 points per possession, and they lead the league in turnover rate, forcing turnovers on 22.1 percent of opponents possessions. Unlike last season,  once you get it past the press it is not simple to score, as the Mountaineers rank 3rd in 2-point percentage allowed. They also rank 3rd in 3-point percentage allowed but given that that is a function of the offense moreso than the defense, there is some luck involved. With WVU in the middle of the pack in terms of threes allowed (and thanks to the press a lot of those are fairly open) we might see some regression there.

Offensively, WVU needs to grab offensive rebounds to score. They rank 6th in the league in eFG and 8th in turnover rate, but they lead the league in getting to the line and are second in offensive rebounding. Kansas did a very nice job on the glass in Morgantown, so if they can replicate that success tonight it will be a huge step towards winning a huge game. As for the free throws, WVU has a free throw rate of 53.5 and a free throw rate allowed of 57.6. This is going to be a long game unless the refs refuse to call fouls like they did in Morgantown.

Players to Watch

Devin Williams leads the league in defensive rebounding and is 9th in offensive rebounding. I think he is the toughest matchup for the Jayhawks on the glass because unlike a guy like Rico Gathers, Williams uses speed and energy to get to the glass rather than merely outmuscling people. Landen Lucas can outmuscle guys, Traylor and Diallo can provide energy, but the Jayhawks don't really have anyone to provide both.

Jevon Carter ranks 6th in the league in assist rate but he has a pretty high turnover rate. Kansas doesn't really force turnovers, but Carter is a guy they can target if they want to force some.

Jaysean Paige looked like an All American against Kansas in Morgantown and he has had a nice conference season overall. Paige ranks 2nd in usage and is shooting 53 percent on twos. He's shooting just 29 percent behind the arc, but I think we are all prepared for him to go 4-5 tonight. He also ranks 2nd in the league in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

The Pick

WVU has a nice two headed monster in Paige and Williams and if Kansas can't get to the line again they might be in trouble. Although the Jayhawks rank 8th in the league in free throw rate, it has been a bit better in their last 2 home games. The game in Morgantown was the first time Kansas was really unable to handle the press, but I think they will be able to adjust to it a bit and if they can keep West Virginia off the glass as well as they did in the first meeting, I think the Jayhawks will win. It will be close, but I like Kansas to squeak one out, 81-76.