Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Monday’s game: No. 9 West Virginia at No. 3 Kansas, 8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse (ESPN)
Opponent’s record: 20-5
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 4
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Point spread: Kansas by 5
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Turnovers ... both ends: West Virginia is No. 1 in the nation in defensive turnover percentage and 38th in the offensive version of the stat. Both numbers have slipped some in Big 12 play, but getting up more shots than the opponent remains the team’s top strength.
▪ Offensive rebounding: The Mountaineers are fourth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and second in the Big 12 since league play began.
▪ Rim protection: West Virginia is 22nd nationally in field-goal percentage defense at the rim while ranking 18th in defensive block percentage.
▪ Fouling: West Virginia’s aggressive defensive style is often more costly on the road when the team has more fouls called against it. The Mountaineers are 295th in defensive free-throw rate, though that’s still an improvement from last year when they were last in the country in the stat.
▪ Defensive rebounding: Offensive and defensive rebounding are different skills, and this West Virginia team is a good example. The Mountaineers are fourth nationally in O-board percentage and 330th in D-board percentage. The key is getting up a shot before West Virginia forces a turnover.
▪ Transition defense: The Mountaineers allow lots of transition opportunities, which hypothetically should be good for this Kansas team, which thrives on fast breaks. Having said that, the Jayhawks haven’t always looked comfortable attacking with numbers since coach Bob Huggins went to his all-out pressing style.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-8 forward Esa Ahmad (No. 23)
Plus: Scored career-high 27 points in last game against KU
Plus: Thrives in transition
Plus: Active defender who has strong block and steal numbers
Plus: Creates contact and gets to line often
Minus: Has been turnover prone in Big 12 play
6-foot-2 guard Jevon Carter (No. 2)
Plus: Sixth nationally in steal rate
Plus: Team’s best passer
Plus: Strong finisher at the rim for a guard
Plus: One of team’s top defensive rebounders
Minus: Has shot most threes on team, but is below NCAA average percentage-wise (34 percent)
6-foot-9 forward Nathan Adrian (No. 11)
Plus: Team’s best offensive rebounder
Plus: Gets fouled often and is 73 percent shooter at line
Plus: Has solid steal rate for big man
Minus: Shoots lots of threes but, like Carter, has only made 34 percent of them
Minus: Not a great defensive rebounder
Let’s start with the good news for KU: The team wasn’t affected by turnovers in its first game against West Virginia.
The Jayhawks, who have often struggled with ball security against Huggins’ “Press Virginia” teams, gave it away on just 20 percent of their possessions in the two teams’ first matchup.
As you know, that didn’t matter. KU’s half-court defense was dreadful, as West Virginia made it to the rim for layup after layup in racking up 1.29 points per possession — the fourth-most against Self in his 14 seasons at KU — as part of an 85-69 victory on Jan. 24.
West Virginia has struggled on the road this season, as its style doesn’t work as well when it doesn’t get a home whistle. Having said that, KU fans would probably feel a lot better about the Jayhawks’ chances if they knew for sure that Frank Mason — one of the team’s best at drawing fouls — was completely over the sickness that slowed him in the team’s 80-79 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday.
I have basically the same feeling for this game as Saturday’s. I think it will be close, with bettors perhaps giving KU too much credit in bumping the spread up to five.
Then again, is it wise to pick KU to lose a close game at Allen Fieldhouse? Especially against a team that is this foul-happy?
Give me KU to win, but West Virginia to cover.
Kansas 77, West Virginia 76
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: West Virginia
Hawk to Rock
If he can avoid foul trouble — he didn’t in the first game — Landen Lucas has the chance for a huge offensive rebounding game. Adrian shouldn’t offer much resistance on the glass defensively, which means there’s double-double potential here if Lucas hustles as hard as he has the last few games.
Last game prediction: Kansas 68, Texas Tech 66 (Actual: KU 80-79)
2016-17 record vs. spread: 10-12-1
Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 51-39-3