UPDTING THE JAYHAWKS
Kansas has gone 4-1 since WVU dealt it an 16-point loss back on Jan. 24. That sole defeat came at the hands of Iowa State, which won an overtime decision in Lawrence, but the stretch also included wins over Baylor and Kentucky. A projected #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Jayhawks still control the battle for the Big 12 regular season title – but the Mountaineers again have a chance for a season sweep and a narrowing of the race for the top.
Freshman Josh Jackson (6-8, 205 lbs.) and senior Frank Mason (5-11, 190 lbs.) continue as possibly the best duo of players in the country. Mason excels across the board, and shows 20.1 points and 4.9 assists per game while logging nearly 35 minutes per contest. Jackson, who is likely making his only round-robin tour of the Big 12 on his way to the NBA, has been everything that's advertised, dropping 16.6 points and snaring seven rebounds per game. He has eight double-doubles this year, including four in the last five games.
Jackson and Mason are ably supported by junior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (6-8, 205 lbs.), junior Devonte Graham (6-2, 185 lbs.) and senior Landen Lucas (6-10, 250 lbs.). All are extremely comfortable in their starting roles, and they log major minutes for head coach Bill Self.
The biggest problems for KU have come off the court, where an investigation into an alleged assault and an unrelated suspension for Carlton Bragg have admittedly affected the Jayhawks. Whether those issues contributed to the two losses to Iowa State and WVU are debatable, but for now they appear to be part of the landscape, and it's tough to imagine the experienced lineup carrying much of that over onto the court at this point.
The Kansas perimeter gets most of the attention, but it might be the battle inside that could tip the balance in WVU's favor.
|WVU (20-5 / 8-4) vs. Kansas (22-3 / 10-2)||Mon Feb 13||9:00 PM EST|
|Phog Allen Fieldhouse||Lawrence, KS||Series: KU 6-4|
|RPI: WVU - 30 KU - 3||TV: ESPN||Sirius/XM/SXM: 83/199/199|
Lucas is an underrated and very good player, but he's the only dependable big on the Kansas roster. West Virginia must take the action to Lucas, and try to wear him down or get him out of the game while playing against WVU's rotating cast of big men. Look for more of the high-low action from WVU, with Nathan Adrian working in tandem with the Mountaineer centers to create post opportunities. They also need to account for him on the boards, where he's leading the Big 12 in conference play with 10.9 per game.
This isn't a magic bullet, of course. Kansas' wings, including Josh Jackson, can certainly defend in the lane, and WVU's centers aren't dominant back-to-the-basket scorers. However, if they can muster more than the 12 points they combined for in the first game, the Mountaineers might have a better chance of the rare win in the Phog.
Then, there's Esa Ahmad. His 27 points in the first game will certainly have the Jayhawks' attention, and the way in which he responds will be another major factor in the game. If KU doubles him in the post or runs an extra defender at him when he puts the ball on the floor, he has to make good decisions. He's a very good passer, and despite some ballhandling issues of late has the ability to make defenses pay for overcommitting. If he doesn't force the issue, and reacts well to what the defense shows, he can keep WVU in the game and give it a chance to win. If he gets single coverage, he needs to play with the same confidence he showed three weeks ago.
Also to watch – does WVU stick with Tarik Phillip in the starting lineup, or return to Dax Miles and let Phillip inhabit his very comfortable and effective off-the-bench role? The emergence of Beetle Bolden as a scoring threat might have something to do with that decision as well.
This is the first of two consecutive Big Monday appearances for the Mountaineers. They host Texas next week in a late-nighter at the Coliseum.
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WVU's win over K-State pushed it to the 20-win mark for the 31st time in school history. Head coach Bob Huggins has nearly as many on his own, with 28 in his 35 seasons as a head coach.
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Kansas' Mason will start his 100th consecutive game for the Jayhawks, making him the sixth KU player in that group. Danny Manning, Raef LaFrentz, Aaron Miles, Wayne Selden and Jacque Vaughn are the current members in that exclusive company.
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West Virginia is shooting 72.3% from the free throw line in Big 12 games, as opposed to 68.7% by their opponents.