Kansas kicks off the hopefully second most pivotal 8 game stretch of its season at West Virginia tonight. Picture this: West Virginia is ranked 4th in KenPom, but at just 4-3 in Big 12 play, they will be all but knocked out of Big 12 contention with a Kansas victory.
West Virginia’s defense gets most of the attention, but the offense ranks 10th in the country and 2nd in the Big 12, with the Mountaineers scoring 1.11 points per possession in league play. As you would expect from Bob Huggins, they’re mostly doing it with shot volume. West Virginia is 2nd in the league in offensive rebounding, grabbing right around 39 percent of its misses, and turns it over on just 19 percent of its possessions.
The Mountaineers get quite a few good looks off turnovers as well (obviously) attempting 14 percent of their shots in transition off steals, and taking right around 2⁄3 of those shots at the rim. As you can imagine, that has partially inflated their 2-point percentage, and it sits at 53.4 percent in league play. They are much worse in the half court, taking fewer than 30 percent of their shots at the rim and shooting right around 55 percent at the rim in the half court. They also shoot under 40 percent on 2-point jumpers and are at 33.3 percent on threes, so it goes without saying that Kansas is really going to need to give the Mountaineers as few transition opportunities as possible.
That, however, is easier said than done. Once again, West Virginia has one of the best presses in the country, and are forcing turnovers on 24.4 percent of opponents’ possessions (believe it or not, that is not first in the league). They have, however, come back down to earth in other areas. Whereas last year’s team finished 4th in 2-point percentage allowed, this team is currently 8th, allowing teams to shoot 53 percent on twos. They’re also 9th in defensive rebounding, and unsurprisingly 9th in sending teams to the free throw line.
Oddly enough, West Virginia gives up fewer threes than any team in the league, but (admittedly anecdotally) that appears to be due to teams wanting to attack after breaking the press rather than any concerted effort to not give up threes. (I could be proven wrong, however.)
Players to Watch
Jevon Carter, senior guard
Carter plays more minutes than any player on the team, and is its best defender. You have to assume he will play a bit more than normal tonight so he can guard Frank Mason. Carter also leads the team in assist rate and is shooting 58 percent on twos.
Nathan Adrian, senior forward
Not the gold medal winning swimmer, Adrian is West Virginia’s best offensive rebounder so far this year. He also is 4th in the league in free throw rate. He shot 41 percent from three last year, but is at just 27 percent this year and for his career is shooting 31 percent from deep. Naturally this means he’s going 5-6 tonight.
Dexter Miles, junior guard
Miles would have a shot at cracking the first team all Big 12 lineup if he gets some more minutes, but as it is the junior is shooting 60 percent on twos and 38 percent from three this season. Miles also basically never turns it over, although he is WVU’s worst rebounder among rotation guys.
Things to Watch For
- Turnovers - Hey duh. Kansas has had a bit of a run here turning the ball over against teams that don’t really force them, but I don’t think that necessarily means doom for them tonight. I always do a bad job of explaining this, so I hope you can follow along better than I can explain: I think it is worse for Kansas to play teams that don’t ever turn teams over, because every additional turnover Kansas gives them means so much more. Against a team like, well, Kansas, who is going to make shots as tough as possible to make, you need every opportunity to score that you can muster. However, even though West Virginia is incredible at forcing turnovers, I have a hard time seeing Kansas turn it over on something like 33 percent of their possessions. They have struggled with turnovers in previous meetings with the Mountaineers, but they didn’t have 4 ball handlers on the floor at a time against those teams. As for actually breaking the press, both Texas Tech and Oklahoma did a good job spreading out West Virginia and making them guard their ball handlers 1 on 1, which reduced turnovers, and if WVU brought help to force a trap they were able to pass it out of the double team and get it to an open offensive player because they had so many ball handlers on the floor. I think Kansas can replicate that, especially considering a lot of their turnovers lately have been once they get the ball into the half court.
- Rebounding - The other duh. Kansas has done a good job on the glass lately, pounding the offensive glass against the best defensive rebounding team in the league on Saturday. They also held Oklahoma State, one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, to 12 percent under their average. For the most part, WVU is like that OSU team, a not terribly tall team that gets a bunch of offensive rebounds by sheer hustle and force of will. I think Kansas will be able to keep them off the glass as well.
- Fouls - West Virginia is 9th in the league at sending teams to the line. Kansas is 2nd in the league at sending teams to the line. The numbers were similar (although Kansas wasn’t as stingy) when they met in Morgantown last year, and West Virginia attempted 26 more free throws than the Jayhawks did. For whatever the reasons, that can’t happen this year if Kansas is going to win.
West Virginia has gotten bitten by the luck monster a bit, losing 3 games by a total of 6 points. Still, with mostly a four guard lineup, and 2 incredible ball handlers in the back court, Kansas is better fit to meet the challenge of WVU’s press than they ever have been during WVU’s press era. The Jayhawks have also improved a lot on the glass, have done a much better job at forcing tough jumpers lately, are getting good rim protection, and unlike last year once (if) you break the press, WVU is not incredibly difficult to score on. I think Kansas will break said press, and I think they will win 85-81.