The top team in the Big 12 conference standings will be playing in Phog Allen Field House on Tuesday night, but for once it's not the homestanding Kansas Jayhawks.
UPDATING THE JAYHAWKS
A lot has happened in the little less than a month's time since WVU defeated Kansas in Morgantown. The Mountaineers, despite numerous hurdles, have moved to the top of the Big 12 standings, while KU has lost twice more in the league (both on the road) to drop one game off the pace in the league race. Wins over TCU (twice) Texas, Kentucky and Kansas State were offset by losses at Oklahoma State and Iowa State, but the Jayhawks have plenty of time to climb back atop their accustomed spot atop the conference. A win over West Virginia would be their first big step in doing so, and they'll have the support of one of the best home crowds in the league to help them along. After this week’s double dip of WVU and Oklahoma, Kansas has a very favorable schedule down the stretch, so a win here would go a long way in helping them compete for a ridiculous 12th consecutive regular season league title.
The key performers all stay the same for Kansas, starting with bedrock performer Perry Ellis (30 minutes, 16.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and guard Wayne Selden (14.5 ppg, 44.6% 3FG%). Ellis has been on a nice run recently, having scored more than 19 points in four of KU's last five outings. The Jayhawks have been hampered somewhat due to the absence of shot-blocker Hunter Mickelson, who missed recent contests against Kentucky and Kansas State, then played just two minutes against TCU. While not a big scorer, his presence in the lane certain causes WVU problems on defense, so his availability is more important than raw numbers might suggest.
Kansas also had hoped that by this time in the year they would be getting more contributions from highly-recruited freshmen Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg, but both are still seeing limited minutes, with up and down results. Either is capable of having the fabled “breakout game” at any point, though so they also bear watching as head coach Bill Self tries to build more consistent productivity from his bench.
Overall, Kansas continues to play at a very high level, which might be getting lost a bit in the wide open Big 12 race. They are in the top third of the league in many statistical categories, showing their excellence of overall play, and simply aren’t going to beat themselves, given the experience of their roster.
There's no denying the impact that Phog Allen Fieldhouse has on visiting teams, but West Virginia has shown it has the ability to be competitive there. If it can do that again, though, a giant step remains – one that few teams have been able to accomplish.
|WVU (19-4/8-2 vs. KU (19-4/7-3)||Tue Feb 9||7:00 PM EST|
|Allen Fieldhouse||Lawrence, KS||Series: KU 4-3|
|RPI: WVU – 6 KU - 10||TV: ESPN2||Sirius\XM: 134/199|
In order to make that stride and get a win, WVU must limit one or more of Kansas’ big four starters, just as it did in the victoryat home on January 12. In that game, Ellis was excellent, but the Mountaineers held Wayne Selden and Devonte’ Graham in check, and didn’t allow any of them to dominate the game. If all four are in the flow, KU is almost impossible to beat. West Virginia must also continue to get supporting contributions from … someone. That has been a key in many of their league wins this year – there has always been a player or two, and not always the same guy, who comes up with big plays at the right moment or above-norm performances. That has not only made West Virginia more difficult to prepare for, but it also makes for tougher in-game adjustments for opponents.
WVU head coach Bob Huggins, quoting the late Marquette coach Al McGuire, has the perfect attitude for trips into such environs as Allen Fieldhouse. “I knew we were good when we could walk into any place in America and play without fear,” he has said on more than one occasion when evaluating the strengths of his teams. That’s what West Virginia has to do in this case, and it needs look no further back than its last road trip to Iowa State for confirmation. That doesn’t mean that West Virginia is guaranteed to win, of course, but many teams lose before they even set foot on courts such as KU’s.
Huggins also noted he has no update on the status of senior forward Jonathan Holton, who was suspended for the last three games. Whether he is just trying to keep Kansas guessing is up for debate, but it’s also clear that he doesn’t want any distractions for his team. Whether or not the release of any information would cause that is up for debate, but at least it might throw a bit of doubt into KU’s game preparation. Still, going back to the previous items, the keys for WVU are to remain within its team concepts and play without trepidation, whether Holton is available or not.
The Kansas game will be Bob Huggins’ 300th as the head man at WVU. He has won 194 of his outings so far at his alma mater.
The Jayhawks have not played a lot of close games this year, at least in terms of the final score. Only six of their 23 games have been decided by fewer than double digits.
Kansas is 12-0 in Allen Fieldhouse this year, and is riding a 36-game home winning streak. Completing the year with an unblemished home record would be nothing new for KU, which has done it five previous times under head coach Bill Self.
WVU’s Jaysean Paige averages 14.2 points in 21.0 minutes per game. Extrapolate that over 40 minutes, and his average would be 27 points, the sixth highest such number in Mountaineer history. Jerry West (1960) averaged 32.17 points in 40 minutes. After West, it was Wil Robinson (1972) with 30.96, West (1959) with 29.85, Robinson (1971) with 28.62 and Hot Rod Hundley (1956) with 27.85.