Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Friday’s game: Kansas vs. West Virginia, approximately 8:30 p.m., Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
Opponent’s record: 14-19
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KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 95
Point spread: KU by 10.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Offensive rebounding: This has become a Bob Huggins staple, as West Virginia ranks seventh nationally in offensive rebounding percentage after finishing first, sixth and fifth over the previous three seasons.
▪ Drawing contact: The Mountaineers were the top Big 12 team during conference play when it came to getting to the free-throw line.
▪ Transition offense: Though West Virginia runs less than an average team, it has performed well in those situations, ranking 38th in adjusted shooting percentage in transition.
▪ Carelessness: West Virginia ranks 326th in offensive turnover percentage 350th in opponent steal rate.
▪ Interior defense: The Mountaineers had the Big 12’s worst two-point defense in league play while also ranking 320th nationally in percentage of shots allowed at the rim.
▪ Transition defense: West Virginia is 338th when it comes to allowing fast-break opportunities and 255th in adjusted shooting percentage against in those scenarios.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-10 forward Derek Culver (No. 1)
Plus: All-Big 12 second-teamer
Plus: Excellent rebounder, both ends
Plus: Does outstanding job of drawing contact and getting to the line
Plus: Good finisher at the rim
Minus: Synergy’s logs rate him as “poor” overall defender who struggles to guard post-ups
Minus: Only a 59 percent free-throw shooter
6-foot-7 forward Emmitt Matthews (No. 11)
Plus: More than doubled his career high with 28 points in Thursday’s win over Texas Tech
Plus: Excellent finisher in transition
Plus: 74 percent free-throw shooter
Minus: Had only been a role player offensively before Thursday’s outburst
Minus: Poor three-point shooter for the season (26 percent)
6-foot guard Jordan McCabe (No. 5)
Plus: High-volume, above-average three-point shooter
Plus: Good distributor
Plus: 74 percent free-throw shooter
Minus: Horrific finisher at the rim (1-for-14 ... 7 percent!)
Minus: Can be turnover prone
First off, I hope you cashed in on the previous KU-West Virginia Quick Scout from Feb. 16, which was probably the best I felt about any pick all year (as evidenced by the headline). I’m not feeling as certain on this one.
The Mountaineers were in a bit of disarray before their previous game against KU, trying to figure out on the fly how to replace two of their go-to guys offensively. After a few weeks, West Virginia has had some freshmen emerge to take on bigger roles, which makes this a much more difficult team to figure out.
The season-long numbers match pretty closely with the Vegas line. KenPom — counting Sprint Center as a “semi-home” environment for KU — projects KU to win by 11, while sportsbooks have given West Virginia a one-point bump from that. That could be because of the Mountaineers’ recent play, or perhaps because Sprint Center doesn’t give KU the type of boost one might expect.
For KU, I actually think the matchup is pretty good. The Jayhawks didn’t attempt a lot of threes Thursday against Texas, and they shouldn’t have to do that much here either; West Virginia’s transition and interior defense is leaky enough by itself to allow KU a successful day by mostly attacking the paint.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, appeared to shoot a bit over their heads against Texas Tech on Thursday, both from three-point range (7 of 19) and the free-throw line (20 of 22). I wouldn’t bank on either of those repeating Friday.
KU’s biggest concerns defensively have to be both fouls and the defensive glass. To be honest, though, those were two strengths of the Jayhawks defense during league play, meaning West Virginia dominating either area would be a surprising result.
The biggest struggle for KU recently has been offense, and it seems like that could be fixed some Friday with steals and transition points. Add in the fact that West Virginia’s shooting could regress some from recent levels, and I like KU for the win and cover.
Kansas 79, West Virginia 63
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
Marcus Garrett had six steals in the first game against West Virginia in Morgantown before he had to sit out the rematch with an ankle injury. This is an ideal defensive setup for him, as he not only will be able to pester opposing guards with his on-ball defense, but he also has an opportunity to get steals using his smarts and quick hands to poke it away from West Virginia’s somewhat careless big men. Look for Garrett to get extended minutes (if his ankle allows) because of his specific skill-set.
Last game prediction: Texas 75, Kansas 71 (Actual: KU 65-57)
2018-19 record vs. spread: 18-14
Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 95-76-3