SCOUTING THE JAWHAWKS
Much of the focus on Kansas in the preseason was directed at Andrew Wiggins, but the glare of that spotlight is the norm in Lawrence. It's rare when the Jayhawks don't have a freshman or two on the national radar, and this season is no exception. While that scrutiny often results in overheated anlaysis and rollercoaster spates of articles that either hype or tear down the team according to the results of its latest game, the fact is that KU is again the class of a league that's filled with NCAA-caliber squads. Getting caught up in the media white noise surrounding Wiggins and Joel Embiid is to ignore the accomplishments of this Kansas team, whihc has few exploitable weaknesses.
Wiggins (Fr., G, 6-8) leads a starting five that is very close to all averaging double figures. The potential one-and-done player averages 15.9 per outing, and leads the team in shots, 3-point attempts, free throw attempts and steals. He's also an all-around contributor, averaging 6.0 rebounds. In the backcourt, he teams with fellow freshman Wayne Selden (6-5), who has also been quite precocious. He scores just more than ten points per game, and is also a credible t3-ball threat. Veteran Naadir Tharpe (Jr., G, 5-11) has helped set up his young teammages all season, averaging 5.2 points per game while adding 9.5 points per outing. He is quite efficient, making more than half of his shots from the field, and can't be ignored defensively.
The beat continues up front, where Embiid (Fr., C, 7-0) shouldered his way into the starting lineup midway through the season. He scores on 61% of his shot attempts, rebounds at 7.6 per contest, and has rejected 57 opponent tries. He has done all this in just 22 minutes per game, although those numbers have been going up during conference play. He is prone to foul trouble, having fouled out of four games and committed four infractions in nine others. Perry Ellis (So., F, 6-8) rounds out the starting five with 13.2 points and 6.7 rebounds, and chooses his spots well, making 54% of his attempts.
Off the bench, there's much more talent, although the productivity might not be at the level that head coach Bill Self wants. Frank Mason (Fr., G, 5-11) tosses in 6.4 points in fewer than 18 minutes of action, while Jamari Traylor (So., F, 6-8) contributes inside with 4.0 points and 3.5 boards per outing. He's also second on the team with 19 blocks -- one of five Jayhawks with more than ten rejections this season. Sometime starter Taik Black (F, Sr., 6-9) adds 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
West Virginia will, as usual, gear its defense to disrupt Kansas' set plays. If that happens, offense often moves into a battle of screens and talent, and that's where the going gets tough for most Jayhawk opponents.
As WVU fans have seen this season, more and more offensive possessions come down to the point guard taking the ball and working off a high ball screen to create something late in the shot clock. Juwan Staten has been transcendent in such situations, leading WVU to excellent scoring performances and a number of wins. Kansas, though, has multiple players who can do the same, and it also possesses the ability to simply win one-on-one battles when it doesn't get the shot it wants from a set play. Tharpe can drive, dish and score from the point, but Wiggins and Selden can do the same, or pull up for jumpers. KU can also lob the ball over defenses, with Wiggins, Ellis and Embiid all targets that can go up and get the ball over defenders, or score in the lane. WVU simply doesn't have the interior height to contend with that, so it's going to have to excel at positioning, pressure the ball on the outside and make those passes more difficult. That might leave it exposed to drives, but against Kansas it's kind of a pick your poison situation.
4:00 PM E
Phog Allen Fieldhouse
WVU 14-9, 6-4
KU 17-5, 8-1
WVU - 72
KU - 1
The other thing WVU can't do is give Kansas extra possessions. As the Jayhawks shoot 50% as a team from the field, they score enough on their own without extra help. WVU can't turn it over (fortunately, that hasn't been a problem this season), but the Mountaineers must figure out a way to keep KU off the boards, especially on the offensive end. Kansas has a +152 rebounding margin this season, and while all of that gap has been build on the defensive end, it doens't mean that it can't go get it on the offensive glass. KU shoots the ball so well that offensive rebounds simply aren't as available as they are to many teams, but when misses are in evidence, they don't ignore the chance to get the ball. One and done offensive possessions are a must if WVU is to force the upset.
The Mountaineers must also shoot the ball well from distance to stay in the game. KU blocks shots at a maniacal rate (see chart below), so it doesn't figure that WVU will be able to score a great deal inside. That doesn't mean WVU should abandon drives, but it points out the need to make its mid-range and 3-point tries.
WVU and Kansas were founded one year apart, with KU starting in 1866 and WVU beginning a year later.
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Record watch: Eron Harris is just five 3-pointers away from tying the record for makes from distance as a sophomore. He has 64, trailing Patrick Beilein and Alex Ruoff. Much further down the road, Harris is a threat to eclipse WVU's career records in that category. He is currently tied with Jarrod West for 17th on the all-time list with 108, but with two-plus seasons to go, is a threat to catch Ruoff, who had 261 in his underrated Mountaineer career.
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Kansas has lost five games this year, but all of those came to teams in the RPI Top 50, which explains why KU is the number one ranked team in that metric in the nation.
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KU averages just 5.5 steals per game, but it's not because the Jayhawks are bad defensively. They choose not to gamble, and instead rely on contesting shots and blocking them at the rim. That strategy has paid huge dividends, as the Jayhawks block more than 10% of their opponents' shot attempts this year.