Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Tuesday’s game: No. 2 Kansas at No. 18 West Virginia, 6 p.m. in Morgantown, W.Va. (ESPN)
Opponent’s record: 15-4
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 4
Point spread: WVU by 3 1/2
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Creating havoc: West Virginia has forced turnovers on 31 percent of its defensive possessions this year. That’s not only the No. 1 in the nation, but it’s also the highest mark of any team since Pomeroy started tracking the stat in 2001-02.
▪ Ball security: The Mountaineers are fourth nationally in offensive turnover percentage while giving it away on just 16 percent of its possessions.
▪ Offensive rebounding: West Virginia has grabbed 41 percent of its misses — fourth nationally — and has continued that strength in Big 12 play when it’s pulled down 40 percent of its errant shots.
▪ Defensive rebounding: The Mountaineers rank 327th in D-board percentage after ranking 61st in the stat last season.
▪ Fouls: The Mountaineers are 282nd in defensive free throw rate ... though that’s an improvement from last season, when they were last in the nation.
▪ Three-point shooting: West Virginia is shooting above NCAA average for the season (36 percent), but it doesn’t attempt many threes. The Mountaineers also are eighth in the conference in three-point accuracy since Big 12 play began.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-2 guard Jevon Carter (No. 2)
Plus: Ranks fifth nationally in steal rate
Plus: Team’s best passer
Plus: Above-average shooter at rim and in mid-range
Plus: Great defensive rebounder for his size
Minus: Shoots most threes on team despite poor accuracy (30 percent)
Six-foot-9 forward Nathan Adrian (No. 11)
Plus: Strong offensive rebounder
Plus: Draws fouls often and is 74 percent free-throw shooter
Plus: Doesn’t turn it over often
Minus: Only an average finisher at the rim
Minus: Like Carter, shoots lots of threes with poor percentage (27 percent)
Six-foot-3 guard Tarik Phillip (No. 12)
Plus: Ranks 54th in steal rate
Plus: Decent passer
Plus: Can make threes (20 of 50, 40 percent)
Minus: Poor free-throw shooter
Minus: Has struggled inside arc in Big 12 play
This game should hinge on one factor: Will West Virginia turn KU over some, or a whole bunch?
The Mountaineers’ Big 12 losses have followed a pattern. Oklahoma turned it over 15 percent of the time and won in overtime; Texas Tech gave it away 19 percent of its possessions and also won; and Kansas State kept its TO number to 21 percent in a home victory this week.
Those three percentages are the lowest this season against West Virginia. Because the Moutaineers also get a lot of their offense from their defense, forcing those mistakes are critical.
KU’s recent history isn’t promising. The Jayhawks turned it over on 30 percent of their possessions in Morgantown last year and 25 percent the year before, with both performances resulting in losses.
There might be a little more hope for KU with its new four-guard look. Having Josh Jackson on the floor could help Frank Mason and Devonté Graham, though Jackson hasn’t been the surest ball-handler himself in recent games.
The good news for KU? It won’t face a tougher road game in the Big 12 this year. Though stealing a victory would be huge for the Jayhawks in the conference race ... it’s not something I’m going to predict.
West Virginia 89, Kansas 84
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: West Virginia
Hawk to Rock
One of West Virginia’s biggest issues defensively is allowing putbacks. That makes Landen Lucas a natural pick for HTR. He should be able to create points and rebounds for himself if he stays out of foul trouble.
Last game prediction: Kansas 83, Texas 60, (Actual: KU 79-67)
2016-17 record vs. spread: 8-9
Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 49-36-2