University of Kansas

Quick scout: Why the Vegas line for KU-West Virginia surprises me

KU’s Self on how high the ceiling is for freshmen Ochai Agbaji, Devon Dotson

During his weekly press conference on Feb. 14, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse, KU coach Bill Self talked about the stellar play of his two freshmen guards, Ochai Agbaji and Devon Dotson.
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During his weekly press conference on Feb. 14, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse, KU coach Bill Self talked about the stellar play of his two freshmen guards, Ochai Agbaji and Devon Dotson.

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Saturday’s game: Kansas vs. West Virginia, 3 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence

TV: ESPN

Opponent’s record: 10-14

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 119

Point spread: KU by 14.

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

Creating contact: West Virginia is top-10 nationally and also the No. 1 Big 12 team in league play when it comes to getting free-throw attempts.

Offensive rebounding: This continues to a be a coach Bob Huggins staple, as the Mountaineers rank 14th nationally in O-board percentage after finishing top 10 in the stat each of the last four seasons.

Transition efficiency: West Virginia rarely gets fast-break opportunities, but when it does, it has ranked 24th in adjusted shooting percentage in those scenarios.

3 Weaknesses

Shooting: This is not a skilled team in that regard; West Virginia is last in Big 12 play in three-point and free-throw percentage and eighth in two-point accuracy.

Fouling: The Mountaineers rank 332nd in defensive free-throw rate, meaning we should expect a decent number of free-throw attempts from KU on Saturday.

Carelessness: West Virginia is 323rd in offensive turnover percentage, ranking as the worst Big 12 team in that regard.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-10 forward Derek Culver (No. 1)

culver_derek.jpg

Plus: Should be team’s go-to guy offensively following so many team departures

Plus: Elite rebounder, both ends

Plus: One of Big 12’s best at creating contact

Plus: Excellent finisher inside

Minus: Only a 57-percent free-throw shooter

Minus: Synergy’s logs rate him as “average” overall defender who is “below average” in post-up situations

6-foot guard Brandon Knapper (No. 2)

knapper_brandon.jpg

Plus: Scored 25 off bench in team’s most recent win vs. Oklahoma

Plus: High-volume three-point shooter who is above average there

Plus: Gets to line often and is accurate free-throw shooter

Plus: Good defensive rebounder for his size

Minus: Extremely turnover prone

Minus: Poor two-point shooter who especially struggles at rim

6-foot-7 guard Jermaine Haley (No. 10)

haley_jermaine.jpg

Plus: Scored 13 points in first matchup against KU on 5-for-5 shooting

Plus: Draws contact often

Plus: Gets to rim frequently and is good shooter there

Minus: Turns it over a lot

Minus: Not a three-point shooter (4-for-19 this year)

Minus: Only a role player offensively

Prediction

This line wasn’t what I was expecting.

KenPom and Torvik’s projections both have KU as a 16-point favorite, which means Vegas is giving West Virginia a two-point bump even with the Jayhawks playing at home.

The most likely reason for that is KU playing short-handed without the injured Marcus Garrett and with Lagerald Vick away from the team. Still, the Jayhawks have done fine so far adjusting to that, covering the spread in each of the last two games.

On West Virginia’s side ... is Huggins dismissing Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris last week something that could help? It’s hard for me to make that case, as both players had decent statistical production on a team that’s struggled to score. Earlier this week, Huggins also said his squad “lost the guys who were really the leaders of the team,” so this doesn’t appear to be a case of addition by subtraction.

Add to all this the fact that guard James Bolden has missed the last four games with a high ankle sprain — meaning you’d have to consider him questionable at best, even after a week off — and I’m not liking the Mountaineers’ chances of keeping this close.

KU has allowed opponents to hang around at Allen Fieldhouse a few times this year, but this seems different. Both teams appear headed in different directions when it comes to stabilizing and finding their identities, and though KU lost the first matchup, I’m thinking a blowout will follow in this one.

Kansas 86, West Virginia 63

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

Devon Dotson had seven turnovers in his first game against West Virginia, but there are reasons to think this contest will go much better. The Mountaineers can’t apply nearly the defensive pressure away from their home gym because of the risk of fouls, meaning Dotson’s ball security should be improved. West Virginia also gives it away a bunch against defenders with good anticipation, and Dotson is KU’s best at that with Garrett still out. Add in Dotson’s ability to get to the free-throw line, which should play well against West Virginia’s hack-happy style, and he should finish Saturday with a good stats on both ends.

Last game prediction: Kansas 73, TCU 71 (Actual: KU 82-77, OT)

2018-19 record vs. spread: 14-11

Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 91-73-3

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.


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