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. 10 Kansas at No. 6 West Virginia, 8 p.m., WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, W.Va.
Opponent’s record: 15-2
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KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 10
Point spread: WVU by 6 1/2
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Forcing turnovers: West Virginia’s pressing style is well-known by now ... and also still effective. The Mountaineers are second nationally in defensive turnover rate and third in steal rate.
▪ Offensive rebounding: KU’s biggest weakness (defensive rebounding) will go up against West Virginia’s offensive strengths, as the Mountaineers are ninth in O-board percentage.
▪ Rim protection: Though opponents get a lot of shots in transition and at the rim against West Virginia, they don’t usually shoot well in those instances. West Virginia ranks 10th in block rate, 22nd in two-point percentage defense and 17th in shooting percentage defense at the rim.
▪ Fouling: West Virginia’s defensive style often results in a high number of fouls, though the Mountaineers’ defensive free-throw rate rank (331st) actually is not as bad as some past years.
▪ Transition offense: It sounds weird to say this, because West Virginia’s pressing should lead to some uncontested shots, but the team has a “below average” rating in Synergy when it comes to fast-break efficiency. Hoop-Math’s numbers also show that the Mountaineers shoot only slightly better in transition than half-court settings.
▪ Three-point defense: West Virginia does allow a lot of threes (39 percent of opponents’ field-goal attempts), so this would be a good place to start if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic about KU’s chances.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-2 guard Jevon Carter (No. 2)
Plus: Third in KenPom’s Big 12 player of the year measure
Plus: Ranks third nationally in steal rate
Plus: Great three-point shooter
Plus: Gets fouled often and is 84 percent shooter there
Plus: Team’s best passer
Minus: Well-below-average finisher at the rim
Minus: Can struggle to get out to perimeter shooters
6-foot-3 guard Daxter Miles (No. 4)
Plus: Creates steals often
Plus: Above-average shooter at rim and in mid-range
Plus: Draws fouls often
Plus: Solid passer who rarely turns it over
Minus: Poor three-point shooter
Minus: Like Carter, his defensive weakness is getting out to shooters
6-foot-8 forward Sagaba Konate (No. 50)
Plus: Elite shot-blocker
Plus: Strong defensive rebounder
Plus: Draws fouls often and is 75 percent shooter at line
Minus: Only a role player offensively
Minus: Minutes have been limited at times because of foul trouble
There is an interesting quirk with this Vegas line that you don’t see often.
KenPom’s projection has West Virginia by three, though after the betting line opened at 4 1/2, that number has shot up to 6 1/2. It’s rare to get that much of a difference between the advanced numbers and bettors.
Recent history obviously isn’t with the Jayhawks. KU has lost four straight in Morgantown, with the last two decided by 12 and 16 points.
At first glance, this also appears to be a troublesome matchup for this particular KU team too. The Jayhawks have one natural ballhandler on the roster in Devonté Graham — that could be an issue against a pressing team — while the Jayhawks’ lack of bench options also could come into play late against a Bob Huggins squad that rotates its players frequently. Then there’s the issue of rebounding, as KU could once again find itself in trouble on the defensive glass against an aggressive Big 12 foe.
The hope for KU, then? That skill wins out. The Jayhawks are a much better shooting team than West Virginia, and if they look for them, they should be able to get open threes made possible by the Mountaineers’ gambling style.
I’m closer to Pomeroy than Vegas on this pick. West Virginia will be tough to beat at home, yes, but I don’t see this one turning into a blowout like the last two.
West Virginia 83, Kansas 82
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
There will be a lot of pressure on Devonté Graham, but he’s the most likely Jayhawk to come through with a huge offensive night. Not only is he willing to shoot open and semi-open threes, but he’s also KU’s best at drawing fouls, which should be a helpful skillset against West Virginia. Don’t be surprised if he gets to 30 points Monday.
Last game prediction: Kansas 81, Kansas State 74 (Actual: KU 73-72)
2017-18 record vs. spread: 8-8
Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 66-51-3