UPDATING THE JAYHAWKS
Since turning back a reasonably determined West Virginia team on Jan. 28, Kansas went through a dry spell before righting the ship in mid-February. KU dropped three consecutive games following the WVU win, including an inexplicable 62-55 decision to cellar-dweller TCU. Since that skid, though, Kansas has won five straight, including a pair of overtime wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa State. That has put the Jayhawks back into a tie for the league lead with Kansas State (with whom it holds the tiebreaker advantage), so they will only have to win their final three games to lock up yet another league title.
The Jayhawks combine senior leadership (three fifth-year seniors and four overall in the starting lineup) along with freshman star Ben McLemore to present a team that can score from any position. That fivesome combines to average nearly 60 points per game, and is supported by Naadir Tharpe and Perry Eillw, who combine for more than ten points per game in 32 minutes of floor time.
The key to the Jayhawks, though, continues to be defense. They lead the nation in field goal percentage defense (35.5%), and also top the Big 12 in rebouding margin at +6.7. Forcing teams to miss a lot of shots, then grabbing the majority of the rebounds, is a pretty solid recipe for success, and it's one that makes KU a legitimate Final Four contender.
A number of supporting factors are also in the mix, including the Jayhawks' 6.6 blocked shots per contest and fundamentally sound defensive execution that limits fouls, but in the end their success is fairly easy to analyze. Outside of McLemore, they aren't overwhelming athletically. They simply play solid defense, shoot the ball well (team 47.1% from the field) and rebound it aggressively. Bob Huggins no doubt approves.
UPDATING THE JAYHAWKS
Kansas isn't unbeatable, and might not be quite as good as some of the storied teams of its past, but it will take a near perfect effort from West Virginia to avoid anything other than a decisive loss.
WVU came up with a good effort in its close loss at home to the Jayhaws, and must get many of those same things in play if it wants to record its biggest win of the season. In game one, the Mountaineers held KU to just 15 shots from the field in the second half, which yielded just 23 points for the visitors.
2:00 PM E
WVU 13-15, 6-9
KU 24-4, 12-3
WVU - 117
KU - 4
Whether through pace, good defense or a combination of both, WVU will have to limit KU's chances by playing throughout the shot clock and rebouding the ball aggressively on defense. The Jayhawks got only nine offensive rebounds in that first game, and took but 37 shots from the field.
Of court, KU did hold a whopping 34-15 advantage in free throw attempts, and helped WVU by missing 16 of those. Part of the differential came from KU's defensive excellence, as it committed just 19 fouls in the game. WVU will have to keep the Jayhawks off the free throw line, because they aren't likely to miss 16 again.
West Virginia has tried a number of different offensive plans this year, but hasn't been able to find something that works consistently. Against Baylor, WVU used a number of outside screens and dribble handoffs to create driving lanes, but that doesn't figure to work well against Kansas, which will keep shot blocker Jeff Withey out of that fray as a last line of defense against those players driving the lane. Deniz Kilicli (or Arric Murray, if he gets out of the doghouse that limited him to four minutes against Baylor) will have to hit a few shots in the midrange to pull Withey away from the hoop and allow other Mountaineers a chance to drive the ball inside.
Kansas has one loss at home this year. Were they to lose another, it would mark the first multi-loss home season at Phog Allen Fieldhouse since the 2006-07 season. Kansas has lost just two games at home in the last six years.
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West Virginia lost two home games last week, and has lost a total of five at home this season.
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Kansas has played 115 complete seasons of basketball, and has won 55 regular season conference championships during that time.
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In its last 13 conference games, Kansas has held eight of its opponents to 60 points or less.