After squeaking one out against Texas Tech on Saturday, Kansas returns to Allen Fieldhouse for what might be the biggest game of the season thus far. A win and the Jayhawks can reasonably start thinking about a Big 12 title. A loss and the Jayhawks will likely need a win in Waco to keep their chances alive.
For their part, West Virginia comes into tonight’s matchup with the best point differential in league play, outscoring opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions. Of course it is worth noting they haven’t had to play either Baylor or Kansas on the road, but that is still very impressive.
Offensively, West Virginia has been really good almost across the board. They are third in the league in turnover rate, 2nd in offensive rebounding, 3rd in getting to the free throw line, 3rd in 2-point shooting, and 4th in free throw shooting. They struggle at times from deep (and at the line, to be fair) but still shoot 36.5 percent behind the arc. They didn’t do anything fancy in the last meeting with Kansas, but they were able to get into the lane pretty much at will. I suspect Kansas will go zone more often and try to make West Virginia shoot over the top a bit more, which may or may not work. (West Virginia is shooting 37 percent on 2-point jumpers, which is pretty good, but that number doesn’t tell you what distance most of those are coming from.) I also think in a weird way going zone actually helps their rebounding, because it gets some of those guys who aren’t natural rebounders down towards the basket more.
Defensively, West Virginia is back to the #1 turnover forcing team in the league, at 25 percent of possessions. They are also 5th in 2-point defense and 9th in 3-point defense (although they do well to limit attempts considering their zone). West Virginia is also last in the league at sending teams to the free throw line, with nearly a 50% free throw rate, but they somehow magically committed just 18 fouls and Kansas only took 15 free throws in Morgantown, so they’ll need to do a better job at getting to the line I guess. Kansas did a pretty good job with the pressure for the most part in Morgantown (except at the end when things snowballed a bit, which is part of why West Virginia has the point differential it does, but I digress), but they shot just 12-30 on twos. They need to do a better job of finishing through contact tonight, but if they can replicate their offensive shot selection I think they’ll be OK offensively.
Players to Watch
Nathan Adrian, senior forward
Beloved for actually wanting to stay in West Virginia after growing up there, Adrian is the linchpin of the press, and he has somehow cut his foul rate in half compared to the first three years of his career, now committing just 3 per 40 minutes. Adrian also ranks 5th in the league in offensive rating, and his shooting touch has returned, as he’s up to 46 percent in league play.
Jevon Carter, junior guard
The man with the worst hairline in sports has seen his numbers get even better, as he now has the 6th best steal rate in the country, and 2nd in the Big 12. He’s not a great shooter, but he does a good job of getting where he needs to be on the floor.
Esa Ahmad, sophomore forward
Ahmad shoots 54 percent from two in Big 12 play, but that’s sort of the limit to his contributions to the team (although obviously scoring is the most important thing you can do on the floor). He is one of their weaker rebounders, and isn’t a great defender. Kansas probably should try to get him off the floor due to his offensive output against them last meeting, however.
Things to Watch For
- Perimeter shooting - Kansas has been hot lately, and they’ll need to continue to be to take some pressure off in case they have a rough turnover game. They also need to avoid the temptation to dump it down low.
- Josh Jackson - He was awful in the first meeting defensively. He’s gotten better at both ends of the floor, though, so he needs to keep it up tonight.
- Frank Mason’s health - He reportedly had the flu (or something) this weekend, and probably was struggling with it last week against K State as well. Kansas obviously needs him 100% to maximize their chances of winning.
This one is pretty close. Kansas is probably due for a game where people don’t make obscene amounts of perimeter jumpers against them (I know that’s not how it works), but at the same time WVU had a parade to the rim in the last meeting. Then again, refs will (hopefully) be intimidated by the Allen Fieldhouse crowd this time around rather than wondering if they would make it out of Morgantown alive if they called a foul against the Mountaineers. However, I don’t trust Mason to be 100% tonight, and without him I don’t really see Kansas beating anyone even half decent, and West Virginia is obviously much better than that. I will pick the Mountaineers 85-80.