Kansas takes its show on the road to Morgantown, and I think I can probably copy and paste my preview from the last couple of seasons: West Virginia will force some turnovers, grab some (or a ton) of offensive rebounds, commit some fouls, and get away with twice as many. On paper, the Jayhawks actually matchup semi-well with the Mountaineers, but of course games aren’t played on paper.
Offensively, West Virginia is taking a ton of jump shots. They’re taking fewer than 31 percent of their shots at the rim, and taking about 40 percent of their shots from three. Given their lack of ability at shooting those jumpers, Kansas can maybe luck out and turn it into a jump shooting game. Of course West Virginia recently got Esa Ahmad back in the lineup, and he torched the Jayhawks for 27 points last season, with a lot of those coming inside, so who knows. And if Kansas does force a miss, they have to worry about the offensive rebounding of West Virginia, which ranks 9th nationally (although it is just 5th in the Big 12, so who knows).
Defensively, West Virginia of course depends on forcing a ton of turnovers - on 27 percent of opponent possessions, in fact. Naturally, they depend on these turnovers offensively as well, not only in terms of giving them extra possessions but also in terms of getting easy buckets. Kansas doesn’t turn it over often, but they’ll probably have a few dumb ones tonight which will lead to some easy baskets.
West Virginia also fouls a ton, ranking 331st nationally in free throw rate, but have committed just 18 and 20 fouls in the last two meetings in Morgantown. (I suppose that should say have been called for just 18 and 20 fouls.) I wouldn’t expect them to get called for too many fouls tonight, but if they do it could give the Jayhawks some free points at the line.
Players to Watch
Jevon Carter, 6-2 senior guard
Carter is probably the best perimeter defender in the country, and has an assist rate of 34 percent to boot. Kansas should try to turn him into a scorer wherever possible, as he’s shooting just 43 percent on twos (although he is shooting 41 percent from deep).
Esa Ahmad, 6-8 junior forward
After missing much of the year due to academic issues, Ahmad went for 18 and 6 against Texas Tech on Saturday. He also had 27 on 10-16 shooting against the Jayhawks last year.
Sagaba Konate, 6-8 sophomore forward
If Kansas breaks the press, they still have to deal with Konate, who ranks 4th nationally in block percentage. That might not be as big of an issue for Kansas, who will probably break the press looking to shoot a three, but there won’t be many free shots at the rim.
Keys to the Game
- Pace - West Virginia obviously likes to get up and down, and while Kansas probably would too, that will likely take Udoka Azubuike mostly out of the game. Konate is a great rim protector, but West Virginia doesn’t really have the raw size to deal with Azubuike down low, so if Kansas can get him some touches, they will have a chance.
- Threes - West Virginia gives up quite a few attempts - 39 percent of opponent shots, to be exact. If Kansas can turn it into a jump shooting game, they’ll have a chance.
- Rebounding - West Virginia is going to miss some shots. They are going to depend on grabbing 40 percent or so of their misses. Obviously Kansas has been awful on the glass this year, but holding them to even a third of their misses will give them a chance.
This is actually closer than I thought when I looked at the numbers. West Virginia gives up a ton of threes, and Kansas doesn’t turn it over much. Still, Esa Ahmad is such a tough matchup, and Kansas’s depth issues mean they’ll probably tire midway through the second half, which will be death on the glass. I’ll take West Virginia 86-77, but it was much harder to call than I thought.