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West Virginia Preview

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NCAA Basketball: Baylor at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Jayhawks face the second head of the 3-headed monster of a schedule they have to start Big 12 play when they welcome West Virginia to Allen Fieldhouse. The Mountaineers narrowly escaped lowly Iowa State in their Big 12 opener, but make no mistake about it: this is a formidable team.

As has seemingly become a staple of Mountaineer basketball, West Virginia doesn’t shoot it very well (33 percent from three, 45 percent from two), but gets a ton of shots up by virtue of not turning the ball over often (16.3 percent of possessions) and getting a ton of their own misses (38.2 percent). That presents an interesting style matchup as the Jayhawks, even with their smaller lineups, have generally held teams below their season average on the offensive glass, including Kentucky and Texas Tech, both of whom came into the game excelling at getting their own rebounds. If Kansas can hold the Mountaineers to, say, 33 percent on the glass rather than 38 percent, those extra five or so defensive rebounds could make a massive difference in deciding the game.

Defensively, Press Virginia seems to be no more. The Mountaineers force turnovers on “just” 20 percent of their opponents possessions, which is still above average nationally but a far cry from their numbers of a few years ago. They’ve mostly limited good looks from deep, and with teams not shooting many threes (35 percent of their field goal attempts) nor making many (just 27.2 percent), it’s easy to see why their defense is doing well. They do allow teams to shoot over 50 percent from two and do reasonably well on the offensive glass, however, which you might not expect with two of the best big men in the conference in their front court.

Players to Watch

Derek Culver, 6-10 junior forward

Culver has gone from just a foul drawing machine to an all around good player, although he still draws almost 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes. He’s shooting under 50 percent from two, but has been a beast on the glass and a pretty good rim protector and is probably the key for the Mountaineers tonight.

Oscar Tshiebwe, 6-9 sophomore forward

It’s been a bit of a sophomore slump for Tshiebwe, who had two very nice games against the Jayhawks last year. When he’s in he’s played well, shooting over 50 percent and leading the team in offensive rebounding, but he’s had to sit far too often due to foul trouble.

Miles McBride, 6-2 sophomore guard

The big outside threat in this one, McBride is shooting 42 percent from three this season and has a nifty 25 percent assist rate while not turning it over much. My guess is he will draw Marcus Garrett duty.

The Pick

This is one of the most interesting matchups style-wise this season. Will West Virginia try to play two bigs and kill Kansas on the glass while forcing either Culver or Tshiebwe to guard a KU perimeter guy? Will Kansas try to match them somewhat with David McCormack, or go 5 out and live with the negatives while enjoying the positives?

I’m probably going to go against the numbers here. The numbers tell me Kansas has been really good on the defensive glass even against good offensive rebounding teams, and the numbers tell me West Virginia isn’t a very good shooting team. So, it stands to reason that Kansas should defend them better than you might initially think.

That said, my eyes tell me Culver and Tshiebwe can rebound over anyone, and that they might get some favorable pick-and-roll matchups against McCormack if Self thinks he needs to play a big man. I’m going to make Kansas prove it to me one more time that they can rebound like the numbers say they can, and pick West Virginia to win 68-61.

2020-21 record ATS: 6-1.