After a 2-0 start in conference play that did not come without its share of difficulty, the Jayhawks are once again on the road against a good team in West Virginia. Get used to this, because this Big 12 season may be the toughest grind we've seen in this conference.
This year's Mountaineers are everything we've come to expect from Bob Huggins teams. They play a high pressure defense (though not necessarily the "Press Virginia" of the past). They foul a lot, but they force a lot of turnovers in the process. They also crash the offensive glass hard, so Kansas will need to be ready for a physical battle where hustle plays on both sides could make a big difference in what figures to be a close game.
West Virginia has improved on both ends of the court from what was a tough season last year. After being an awful outside shooting team last year, they're hitting 36.6% so far, good for 60th in the country. Two transfers, Erik Stevenson from South Carolina and Emmitt Matthews from Washington (though his freshman year was also in Morgantown), have spearheaded that improvement, hitting 45% and 43% respectively. They won't sit back and rely on threes though, with both this transfers and other guards and wings getting efficient looks near the basket as well. For that season, along with doing an excellent job of drawing fouls and getting to the line, they can afford to pick their spots from the perimeter.
The Mountaineers sit at 10-4 overall, 0-2 in league play, but still rank 20th in KenPom's overall ratings, so it may be best to disregard the losses, which came in overtime against a suddenly red hot K-State team, and to the OSU squad that had the Jayhawks down by 15 at halftime in Lawrence. Two narrow road losses are understandable given the competition.
Frankly, I think Kansas is the better team and under different circumstances I might take them to win on the road. The problem is that Kansas, while very good, has been a bit short of dominant so far, at least compared to their record and ranking. They've needed a combination of some luck and Bill Self's late game magic to get through the last two games, and heading to Morgantown on a Saturday night, to play a physical, well-coached team in front of a crowd hyped on moonshine and eager to burn their couches (yeah, that was unnecessary but I'm not deleting it), I think we may see KU finally in a hole they don't quite dig out of. This Kansas team isn't great at denying offensive rebounds, and they don't have much room for foul trouble at a couple of positions. I think West Virginia picks up their first Big 12 win in a hard fought game.
West Virginia 74, Kansas 70