Before every KU basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Saturday’s game: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 9 West Virginia, 5 p.m. on ESPN
Opponent record: 26-7
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 6
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Point spread: KU by 4.
All statistics from KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Offensive rebounding: West Virginia is No. 1 in the nation in offensive rebounding, pulling down 42 percent of its missed shots.
▪ Creating steals: The Mountaineers are the best team in the nation in steal percentage (14 percent) and also second in defensive turnover percentage (25 percent).
▪ Drawing fouls: West Virginia has the sixth-best free-throw rate in the country, shooting 46 free throws for every 100 field-goal attempts.
▪ Fouling: West Virginia’s aggressiveness has a setback, as the team is last nationally in defensive free-throw rate.
▪ Turnovers: The Mountaineers are worse than NCAA average when it comes to giveaways, surrendering the ball on 19 percent of their possessions.
▪ Shooting: West Virginia struggles shooting away from the rim, ranking 263rd in mid-range percentage, 290th in free-throw percentage and 237th in three-point percentage.
Player to Watch
Six-foot-2 guard Jaysean Paige (No. 5)
Plus: Team’s go-to guy offensively who comes off the bench
Plus: Scored 26 points with 17 free-throw attempts in earlier West Virginia win over KU
Plus: Does great job of getting shots at the rim
Plus: One of team’s best free-throw shooters (78 percent)
Plus: Ranks 33rd nationally in steal rate
Minus: Not much of a passer
Minus: Below-average three-point shooter
It was probably silly to think KU coach Bill Self was going to hold back his starters in Friday’s semifinal against Baylor. He’s too darned competitive to do that.
Now that KU has made the title game, expect Self to ride his players as hard as needed to get a championship trophy. That means stacking more minutes for guards Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason, who will be needed most of the time against West Virginia’s press.
I actually like the Jayhawks to win and cover here. KU should get the home-court treatment in KC, and the danger with West Virginia is that a quick whistle has the potential to put an end to the press, as it’s not effective when every hand-check results in free throws.
Is the decision to play Graham and Mason extended minutes in a three-games-in-three-days stretch the best thing for KU moving forward, though? We’ll have the answer to that question by next Saturday.
Kansas 79, West Virginia 71
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
Perry Ellis shouldn’t have any problem wrapping up Tournament MVP honors if KU is able to win. The Mountaineers have no shot-blocker to put against him inside, and they couldn’t keep him under 20 points in either of the teams’ previous matchups. Something like 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting seems about right for Ellis in his final game at Sprint Center.
Last game prediction: Kansas 73, Baylor 70 (Actual KU 70-66)
2015-16 record vs. spread: 16-14
Last two seasons’ record vs. spread: 38-26-1