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West Virginia Preview

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Big 12 Basketball Tournament - Semifinals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

West Virginia comes to Allen Fieldhouse fresh off a neutral court victory over Ohio State, and after being picked middle of the pack in the preseason Big 12 polls, no doubt are on a high right now. While 17th is quite a bit higher than I thought the Mountaineers would be in KenPom at this time of the season, I think there’s good news to be had in terms of the way the two teams match up.

We’ll start offensively with two key numbers: 29.2 percent and 31.9 percent. That’s how many of WVU’s field goal attempts come from behind the arc and how many of those threes they make, respectively. That’s great news for Kansas, who has proven to be difficult to score against inside the arc. West Virginia gets most of its points via offensive rebounds (38 percent) and drawing fouls (39.5 FTA/FGA), which is more good news for the Jayhawks, who have been stout on the defensive glass and haven’t fouled much.

Kansas also has enough size to match up with West Virginia’s (very good) frontcourt. Unlike Kansas, the Mountaineers don’t do a great job of manufacturing easy looks inside, and they tend to like to play their customary fast helter skelter game and hope that they can manufacture enough possessions via offensive rebounds and out effort teams to win. So far, it’s hard to argue with the results.

Defensively, the Mountaineers are a top 10 team in KenPom, but are doing so a little differently than years past. They’ll still pressure, but they rank just inside the top 100 in terms of forcing turnovers rather than ranking among the nation’s elite. They still foul a heck of a lot though, ranking 276th there, so expect Kansas to be at the free throw line a lot.

That’s good news considering the Mountaineers rank 15th nationally in 2-point defense, although to be fair they haven’t had to guard Udoka Azubuike yet, and with West Virginia’s backcourt being what it is, Devon Dotson should be able to get in the lane virtually whenever he wants. With West Virginia guarding the 3-point line relatively well, I expect Bill Self will use this as an opportunity to play a good old fashioned post game, with a lot of two big looks.

Players to Watch

Oscar Tshiebwe, 6-9 freshman forward

The nation’s leader in offensive rebounding, Tshiebwe’s wingspan makes him play a lot taller than he’s listed. He’s also done an impressive job defensively and isn’t turning the ball over much, especially for a freshman. Fortunately for Kansas, he has quite a fouling issue and the Jayhawks have a couple of elite foul drawers.

Derek Culver, 6-10 sophomore forward

A preseason first team all Big 12 member, Culver has picked up where he left off. He’s 2nd on the team in drawing fouls, and shoots an impressive 74 percent from the line. He’s shooting just 46.5 percent on twos, however, so Kansas would do well do avoid fouling him.

Emmitt Matthews, 6-7 sophomore guard/forward

It’s Matthews who likely will draw Marcus Garrett duty when he’s in. Matthews actually leads the team in minutes this year, playing in roughly two-thirds of them, which is a lot for a West Virginia team that ranks 4th in bench usage. If there is a long range threat on this team, it’s Matthews, who has made 37 percent of his 40 attempts so far this season.

The Pick

You’ll notice I didn’t mention any of West Virginia’s point guards. If there’s an area of weakness, it’s in the backcourt and while Devon Dotson is coming off a couple rough games, he’s still among the best guards in the country. While it’s true Kansas hasn’t seen a group of big men like West Virginia has yet this season, it has been incredibly hard to both score on Kansas inside the arc and to keep the Jayhawks from scoring inside the arc.

Even if the Mountaineer big men outplay KU’s by a decent margin, KU’s advantage in the backcourt is so great, and West Virginia hasn’t forced turnovers like they have in the past, that I will take Kansas to win semi comfortably, 73-61.

2019-20 Record ATS: 5-6.