Preview: WVU - Kansas

"Revenge" isn't the key for Kansas, nor is "proving it wasn't a fluke" a factor for West Virginia as the two teams prepare to meet in the final week of the Big 12 regular season.


UPDATING THE JAYHAWKS

Kansas has gone W-L-W since losing to the Mountaineers two weeks ago in Morgantown, and are in a bit more danger of yielding its stranglehold on the Big 12 regular season title. However, a pair of wins in their final two games will put away regular season championship #11. They'll have to do so without the services of forward Cliff Alexander (6-8, 240 lbs.), who is expected to miss his second consecutive game while being held out due to an issue that could impact his eligibility at KU. He was a non-factor in the first WVU - KU game, going to the bench early and playing just six minutes in the contest.

Perry Ellis might have missed that last-second run-out against West Virginia that would have given the Jayhawks another road win (and likely pushed them back as the #1 RPI team in the nation), but that's about the only negative the junior forward has suffered recently. He has scored 23 or more points in each of his last three games and has averaged 25.0 points and 9.7 rebounds in that span. Without the fanfare that usually accompanies the top Jayhawk, Ellis (6-8, 225 lbs.) has played like a first team Big 12 selection.

Frank Mason is the only other double-digit scorer at 12.1 per outing, but Kansas continues to get contributions up and down its lineup. Ten players are still averaging at least 12 minutes per game, with seven of those legitimate 3-point threats.


OUTLOOK

The "revenge factor" might appear to be potent for Kansas in this game, but that's not something that typically has any sort of effect on the outcome.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Tue Mar 3
9:00 PM E
Allen Fieldhouse

Lawrence, KS
Records
WVU 22-7, 10-6
KU 23-6, 12-4
Series
KU 3-2
TV
ESPN2
Sirius/XM
84/84
RPI
WVU - 21
KU - 2
Certainly, the Jayhawks have to be stinging every time they review their loss to WVU in February, when Ellis couldn't convert on a short, but awkward, shot attempt in the final second. Even with their youth, however, the Jayhawks are basketball-savvy enough to know that going out with ideas of retribution can often do more harm than good. Will KU be motivated? Certainly. But revenge and retribution are the types of issues brought up by those looking for a quick quote -- and such factors rarely have an effect on the outcome.

Player availability will obviously be a factor, and just as clearly Kansas comes out ahead in that area. It's hard to imagine anyone in crimson and blue not taking a trade of Alexander for Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, even though they wouldn't admit it publicly. While the latter pair hasn't been ruled out of the game, it's hard to imagine that Browne could recover from Saturday's ankle sprain in just a couple of days. Staten might have a chance to go, but if the upper leg muscle and knee issues are as serious as they appeared in the final minutes of the Texas contest, West Virginia must be ready to play without him too.

Which leads to the real issue -- how can WVU contend with KU with its two senior guards on the bench? First, it can't just settle with putting Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles on the floor for the bulk of the game. Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip must play, and play their roles effectively, to give the Mountaineers a chance. Paige will need to hit a couple of threes, and Phillip must run the point for a while to both give Carter rest and to allow him to slide to the two spot, where he can work away from the ball to get shots.

Second, the Mountaineers must again remove one of KU's big guns from the game. In the first meeting it was Alexander, but as he is already out, West Virginia must take away one or more of the Jayhawks 3-point shooters. They'll have to cover much better than they did against Baylor on Saturday. Finally, WVU can't go down big early. In most of its losses, the Mountaineers have fallen into significant deficits in the opening half, and although they didn't give up, the holes they were in proved too deep to climb out of. If West Virginia is behind by double digits at the break, it's likely going to be a quiet ride back home.


FAST BREAKS

The game marks senior night for the Jayhawks, but the festivities will be short. Only Christian Garrett, a little-used walk-on who has played in just 21 games, will see his home eligibility expire. Of course, as is common with KU, some underclassmen might be playing their final contest at Phog Allen Fieldhouse as well.

Kansas has a history of sending seniors out on a high note, as it has won 31 straight home finales, including 30 consecutive Senior Nights, dating back to the 1983-84 season.

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While some believe that Kansas is "protected" by officials at times due to their heritage, a look at this year's Jayhawk team reveals that it's playing style, not swallowed whistles, that accounts for its lowish fooul total of 17.4 per game. KU doesn't get up into opposing ball handlers, and doesn't create a lot of contact in close. The Jayhawks excel at blocking shots (five per game; 29th nationally) and they prefer to keep their defenders away from contact so they can extend their arms and challenge shots aggressively -- especially with weakside or off-the-ball defenders.

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Kansas can secure the Big 12 regular season title with a win, and a victory would also preserve the following stat, which speaks volumes about the Jayhawks' hoop success. Head coach Bill Self's 10 regular season Big 12 titles are one more than the total home losses he has suffered at the school.

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Much has been made of the fact that West Virginia has not been very competitive in many of its losses. That is a fair statement, as five of the Mountaineers' seven defeats have come by more than 12 points. Whether that detracts from the overall value of the team (or any team), though, is a matter for debate. Consider that three of Kansas' six losses have been by 13 points or more.


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