Morgantown, W.Va. Kansas University junior Wayne Selden Jr., who has experienced two losses the past two seasons at energized WVU Coliseum, knows what it will take to finally beat the No. 11-ranked Mountaineers (14-1, 3-0) in their 14,000-seat arena.
“Just taking care of the ball, letting Frank (Mason III) and Devonté (Graham) take care of all that,” Selden said with a smile, fully aware all members of KU’s No. 1-ranked team (14-1, 3-0) must secure the ball against a squad that is ranked third in the country in steals (170 in 15 games, trailing only Omaha and Gardner-Webb) after leading the nation in thefts in 2014-15.
“West Virginia is going to pressure. We know that. The past couple years, we went there and caught L’s. We’re trying to change that this year,” added Selden, who says he’s looking forward to today’s 6 p.m. road game.
The Mountaineers, who are 1-4 in WVU Coliseum all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the AP poll — the only win came against UNLV on Feb. 27, 1983 — plucked eight steals while forcing 14 turnovers in last year’s 62-61 victory over KU in Morgantown.
In 2013-14, West Virginia, which had not yet implemented its all-out pressing attack, had seven steals in forcing just 11 turnovers in its 92-86 victory at WVU Coliseum.
KU in both instances entered with a No. 8 ranking, the fans storming the court after both wins. WVU was ranked No. 23 at the time of the game last year, unranked the year before.
“I think they may be doing it (pressing) better this year than they did it last year,” KU coach Bill Self said. “A lot of people initially thought with the rules emphasis (calling fouls when players put their hands on opponents), it may cause them to back off a little bit. It hasn’t at all. They are doing a good job of playing and for the most part, without fouling,” Self added.
West Virginia, which leads the country in forced turnovers (20.8 per game), has an average margin of victory at home of 36.7 ppg. The Mountaineers force opponents to turn it over on 27.5 percent of their possessions and average 26.6 ppg off turnovers. West Virginia has forced 30 or more turnovers in three games and has at least seven steals in every game.
“They are in attack mode all the time on both ends,” Self said, “and they have so many interchangeable parts. They are a very deep team. I don’t think anybody is surprised at the success they’ve had this season, but I will tell you this, I was nervous for our team, a lot of coaches were probably nervous, ‘How are we going to guard’ with the rules emphasis. Their players have done a great job of adjusting and still keeping pressure on folks.”
Junior forward Devin Williams leads WVU in scoring (14.5 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg). Sophomore guard Jevon Carter averages 12.7 ppg. He’s tied for the team lead in threes made (25) with senior Jaysean Paige who averages 12.6 ppg in a reserve role. Sophomore Daxter Miles averages 12.1 ppg, while senior forward Jonathan Holton averages 7.3 boards and 9.7 ppg. Freshman forward Esa Ahmad averages 4.8 points, while rotation players Tarik Phillip and Elijah Macon average 7.7 and 6.4 ppg.
“I think we’ve got good guys. They want to win,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “They enjoy being around each other. We don’t have cliques. We don’t have those kind of things that sometimes you have. They’ve been a lot of fun to be around. They like being in the gym. They are enthusiastic about practice, enthusiastic about games for the most part.”
And they love playing pressure defense.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job with our fullcourt pressure,” Huggins said. “We need to be more consistent offensively.”
Huggins respects tonight’s foe, No. 1 KU.
“They’ve shot the ball so well. Obviously you’ve got to try to figure out a way to guard them,” Huggins said. “They are so good defensively. We’re trying to figure out a way to score. I think this might be Bill’s best team he’s had since we’ve been in the league. I think they’re really good.”
Rolling without Staten: West Virginia has done a nice job replacing Juwan Staten, who now plays in the NBA Developmental League.
“They lost a great player in Staten. Of course he was a terrific guard,” Self said Monday. “The way they play is a tribute to him (Huggins). The Spurs are the greatest example of the ‘next man up’ concept in basketball. Regardless who you put out there, the system allows you to be successful.
“That’s what West Virginia has done, the way their kids play, how athletic and quick they are and aggressive. The parts become somewhat interchangeable on the perimeter or on the interior.”
Ratings: KU took over the top spot from Oklahoma in the USA Today coaches poll on Monday. West Virginia is 10th. KU is No. 1 for the second straight week in the AP poll, West Virginia 11th.
KU-UK time: Game time for the KU-Kentucky game, set for Jan. 30 in Allen, has been set at 6 p.m. Central time. It will be shown on ESPN.
The series: KU leads the all-time series with WVU, 4-2. Last season’s second meeting was a 76-69 overtime victory by KU in Allen. ... Self is 4-2 against West Virginia, while WVU’s Huggins is 2-8 all-time versus Kansas (2-4 while at WVU). ... A win tonight would give WVU its best start since the 1981-82 team went 24-1. ... West Virginia is 3-7 all-time against No. 1 teams in the AP. WVU is 1-4 at WVU Coliseum vs. No. 1.
Self on deciding which big men to play meaningful minutes on a given night: “I do think there’s certain things from a depth situation that has made it difficult because a lot of times we don’t know who to play. I know that sounds like a lot of coaches should know. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. A lot of times we play based on scouting report. I haven’t done that in many years,” Self said. “Against West Virginia, it could be best ball-handling bigs for obvious reasons. Against a low-post threat it could be your heaviest big who is the best low-post presence. Against a pick and pop big guy it could be your most agile, best perimeter-defending big guys. It’s nice to have some options we can run people out there. It’d be better if you had one guy who could do it all. Certainly in our situation we’ve kind of done it by committee in that other big spot (next to Perry Ellis).”
Kansas University vs. West Virginia
KANSAS (14-1, 3-0)
F — Perry Ellis (6-8, Sr.)
F — Hunter Mickelson (6-10, Sr.)
G — Frank Mason III (5-11, Jr.)
G — Wayne Selden Jr. (6-5, Jr.)
G — Devonté Graham (6-2, Soph.)
W. VIRGINIA (14-1, 3-0)
F — Jonathan Holton (6-7, Sr.)
F — Esa Ahmad (6-8, Fr.)
F — Devin Williams (6-9, Jr.)
G — Jevon Carter (6-2, Soph)
G — Daxter Miles (6-3, Soph.)
Tipoff: 6 p.m. today, WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, West Virginia.
TV: ESPN2 (WOW! channels 34, 234).
0 — Frank Mason III, 5-11, 185, Jr., G, Petersburg, Virginia.
1 — Wayne Selden, Jr., 6-5, 230, Jr., G, Roxbury, Massachusetts.
2 — Lagerald Vick, 6-5, 175, Fr., G, Memphis.
4 — Devonté Graham, 6-2, 175, Soph., G, Raleigh, North Carolina.
5 — Evan Manning, 6-3, 170, Sr., G, Lawrence.
10 — Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 195, Soph., G, Cherkasy, Ukraine.
11 — Tyler Self, 6-2, 165, Jr., G, Lawrence.
13 — Cheick Diallo, 6-9, 220, Fr., F, Kayes, Mali, Africa.
14 — Brannen Greene, 6-7, 215, Jr., G, Juliette, Georgia.
15 — Carlton Bragg, Jr., 6-9, 220, Fr., F, Cleveland.
21 — Clay Young, 6-5, 205, Soph., F, Lansing.
22 — Dwight Coleby, 6-9, 240, Jr., F, Nassau, Bahamas.
31 — Jamari Traylor, 6-8, 220, Sr., F, Chicago.
33 — Landen Lucas, 6-10, 240, Jr., F, Portland, Oregon.
34 — Perry Ellis, 6-8, 225, Sr., F, Wichita.
42 — Hunter Mickelson, 6-10, 245, Sr., F, Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Head coach: Bill Self. Assistants: Kurtis Townsend, Norm Roberts, Jerrance Howard.
0 — Teyvon Myers, 6-2, 170, Jr., G, Brooklyn, New York
1 — Jonathan Holton, 6-7, 220, Sr., F, Miami, Florida.
2 — Jevon Carter, 6-2, 195, Soph., G, Maywood, Illinois.
3 — James Bolden, 6-0, 160, Fr., G, Covington, Kentucky.
4 — Daxter Miles, Jr., 6-3, 195, Soph., G, Baltimore.
5 — Jaysean Paige, 6-2, 210, Sr., G, Jamestown, New York.
11 — Nathan Adrian, 6-9, 240, Jr., F, Morgantown, West Virginia.
12 — Tarik Phillip, 6-3, 200, Jr., G, Brooklyn, New York.
13 — James Long, 5-11, 190, Jr., G, Charleston, West Virginia.
15 — Lamont West, 6-8, 215, Fr., F, Cincinnati.
20 — Brandon Watkins, 6-9, 245, Jr., F, Decatur, Georgia.
21 — Logan Routt, 6-11, 250, Fr., F, Cameron, West Virginia.
23 — Esa Ahmad, 6-8, 225, Fr., F, Cleveland.
30 — Richard Romeo III, 6-0, 185, Sr., G, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
41 — Devin Williams, 6-9, 255, Jr., F, Cincinnati.
45 — Elijah Macon, 6-9, 235, Soph., F, Columbus, Ohio.
Head coach: Bob Huggins. Assistants: Larry Harrison, Ron Everhart, Erik Martin.