Monday, January 23, 2017

Gameday Breakdown: No. 2 KU basketball at No. 18 West Virginia

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) celebrates an Oklahoma turnover next to Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) celebrates an Oklahoma turnover next to Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.


No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (18-1 overall, 7-0 Big 12) vs. No. 18 West Virginia Mountaineers (15-4 overall, 4-3 Big 12)

Time: 6 p.m. | Location: WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, West Virginia

TV: ESPN | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network

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Keys for Kansas

1. Take care of the ball

It almost seems too simple to state such a difficult task in such a matter-of-fact way, but ball security is by far the biggest key for Kansas in this one and everybody knows it.

KU coach Bill Self, the Kansas players who have experienced it and even those who haven’t have spent the past couple of days obsessing over how to prepare for West Virginia’s vicious pressing defense. Each has come up with the same simple answer — be smart, stay poised and attack.

“It’s always a challenge,” said KU senior Frank Mason III. “They do a great job of being active, guys in the right spot. And they do a great job of rotating and also just trapping and playing with unbelievable energy. It’ll be fun.”

WVU leads the NCAA in turnovers forced per game (23.2) and also leads the Big 12 in scoring (88.3 points per game), steals (12 per game), turnover margin (+11.5) and defensive rebounds (15.6 per game).

Each of those statistics is related in some way, and Kansas’ goal of preventing the Mountaineers from flourishing in each of those areas will come down to how cool, calm and collected the Jayhawks can remain when these two teams are out there flying around the floor.

“It’s very important because everybody knows they’re pressing and they force a lot of turnovers,” junior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. “So, for us, it’s going to be real important to keep the ball alive and limit mistakes.”

2. Embrace the moment

It’s been four years since Kansas walked into WVU Coliseum and left with a victory and the Jayhawks, who have won 18 consecutive games after dropping the season opener back in November, find themselves in a great position to end their three-game road losing streak against WVU.

Reeling from back-to-back losses — at home against Oklahoma last week and at Kansas State over the weekend — the Mountaineers dropped 11 spots in the polls this week and have to be dealing with at least some doubts and confidence concerns as they prepare to welcome the nation’s second-ranked team into their home arena.

Of course, nothing would go further in helping WVU get back on track than a strong effort against Kansas in front of what figures to be a wild and rocking home crowd.

The Jayhawks experienced something similar early last week at Iowa State and, after that win, KU coach Bill Self said he thought his players enjoy playing in those types of atmospheres.

This will be one of them and the Jayhawks appear to be primed and ready for the challenge.

Said Self, whose team is set to kick off a nasty, three-game stretch at No. 18 West Virginia, at No. 4 Kentucky and home vs. No. 5 Baylor: “We can’t be in a better position than we’re in right now, but it would be nice if we kick it into another gear. Because, if we don’t, we’ll be looking, two weeks from now, at the situation saying, ‘OK, it’s anybody’s race.’ And it still is anybody’s race, but we’ve put ourselves in a decent position and now we have to capitalize on our efforts so far.”

3. Start fast

One way to take the home crowd out of it is by jumping out of the gate fast and taking control of the game. The Jayhawks did that against both Texas and at Iowa State in their most recent victories and a similar effort here would go a long way toward not only keeping the WVU fans quiet but also allowing even more doubt to creep into the minds of the West Virginia players themselves.

KU’s fast start in both of those games was aided as much by stellar defense as it was sharp shooting and strong play on the offensive end.

So far, Kansas has shown a propensity throughout the season to answer big runs with timely shots and the Jayhawks figure to need more of that in this one. But the one way to limit just how many of those clutch plays they might need starts with turning up the defensive intensity and getting easy buckets in the first five minutes.

“It’s definitely up there with K-State, Iowa State and then I would say it’s West Virginia,” said Mason, when asked to name the toughest places to play in the Big 12. “But sometimes they can be up there for one of the best.”

Mega Matchup

Backcourt vs. Backcourt

You could nitpick and try to find the big man battle that might tip the balance one way or the other or look to the bench, where WVU both goes deeper and gets more production than Kansas, but the bottom line is this one figures to be decided by the guards.

KU veterans Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham along with freshman Josh Jackson against West Virginia vets Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles and Tarik Phillip. Whichever trio out-produces the other likely will lead its team to victory.

All six players in that group find ways well beyond scoring to impact each game, from defensive intensity and veteran leadership to setting up teammates and scrapping for extra possessions.

For Mason, the individual match-up with Carter will mark the third time in the past four games that he has faced one of the Big 12’s elite point guards.

Jayhawk Pulse

After weeks of looking ahead to the gauntlet that’s now in front of them, the Jayhawks are set to jump into a two-week stretch of games that will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt whether they truly are one of the top teams in the country.

Self recently said he thought KU was ranked high because of its impressive record, but he added that, since opening the season against Indiana and Duke, the Jayhawks had not truly been tested the way they will in the next three weeks.

Five games against Top 20 foes — including three on the road — awaits, and there is not a tougher place to kick it all off than Morgantown, West Virginia.

The Jayhawks are coming off of one of their most impressive defensive efforts in their win over Texas but also allowed that game to be more competitive than it looked like it would be after the Jayhawks’ 14-2 run to open the game.

It’s unlikely that Kansas will survive this stretch in good standing without flashing at least some kind of the killer instinct that has eluded them, and it’s that aspect, as much as defensive improvement and continued offensive punch, that will be under the microscope in the immediate future.

Probable Starters

No. 2 Kansas

G – Frank Mason III, 5-11, 190, Sr.

G – Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 185, Jr.

G – Josh Jackson, 6-8, 207, Fr.

G – Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Jr.

F – Landen Lucas, 6-10, 250, Sr.

No. 18 West Virginia

G – Jevon Carter, 6-2, 200, Jr.

G – Daxter Miles Jr., 6-3, 200, Jr.

F – Brandon Watkins, 6-9, 225, Sr.

F – Esa Ahmad, 6-8, 225, Soph.

F – Nathan Adrian, 6-9, 235, Sr.


Bryce Landon 4 years, 12 months ago

I don't think Kansas will win. If Baylor could get their @$$ kicked as the #1 team in the country, how will we fare in their house? Also, we haven't shown we can take care of the ball against ISU or UT. Moreover, we haven't won in Morgantown since 2013. And after flirting with defeat several times in our first seven conference games, we're due for a loss.

I hope I'm wrong, and I'll be glad to have some crow rammed down my throat if I'm wrong; but, like Stupid Michael, "I'm scared!"

Brian Babcock 4 years, 12 months ago

Though I can't say it 'out loud' as you have, I'm worried they won't win for all of the reasons you stated. Plus WVU is coming off those two losses in a row. For what it's worth (sorry I need to brag to someone) I just found out I'll be at the game. Maybe my battered and bruised body, yelling for the Jayhawks to take care of the basketball and make their doggone free throws, while spitting out that tooth I still kind of need, amidst a sea of yellow, will help.

Dirk Medema 4 years, 12 months ago

It seems worth noting that all those 1st for WVU mentioned in the article are the stats for all games, including the decidedly unbalanced non-conference games. When considering just Big12 games, and the relatively more uniformed field, those stats go to 5 (KU-4), 2 (1), 3 (4), 2 (5), 6 (1).

Interestingly also, where previous WVU teams had a tough time hitting the broad side of the barn from inside the barn, this team actually seems to be scoring well, and reasonably efficiently from inside the arc. Not so much from 3 or defending long shots. If we're hitting, it could be lights out, if not we still have the ability to breakdown their backcourt and score.

Also, while it might be nice to win comfortably (from a fans perspective = 15+?), I think it might be a slightly different perspective for the players, and Devonte and Frank in particular. They're playing 35+ mpg, and realize it is a long season. They're just not going to maintain maximum intensity every 40 minutes, but seems a lot like RussRob commented once in his last season about them knowing when to turn it on. 10 pt wins at 95% effort is a lot more comfortable win than 20 pts at 100%. At least for those who's comfort really matters.

Andy Godwin 4 years, 12 months ago

For those who care, KU enters as a 5 point underdog. Might be the first time this season that KU is an underdog entering the game (don't recall if Duke, which is struggling due to poor defense, was favored against KU). KU's lack of depth could influence the outcome of this game given the waves of players West Virginia uses to wear the other team down and force physical and mental errors. Even with the four guard line up, KU has not protected the ball well at times. One can only hope that the KU guards avoids fouls (or might actually see Tyler play a few minutes) and that Jackson has his best all around game of the season, including a breakout 30+ point performance. Go, fight, win.

Edward Daub 4 years, 12 months ago

I have tickets to the game tonight, a two hour drive to the East. I sure hope to see plenty of KU Fans at the Game, because the weather this year is moderate! For our KU Fans from D.C. who have to cross I-68 West across the Maryland Mountains, always check the weather forecast from Frostburg to Friendsville at the 2800 Ft Elevation! Their temperatures are predicted at the mid 30's today, should be safe!

When I think of the KU at WVU series, I think of the Perry Ellis Era. Yes, Perry played there for 4 Years. I went to the Games the first two years but then stayed home the last two years (I watched on TV of course , and was lucky because I think Snow hit both years!)

Perry's Freshman year we won a close game 61-56. Perry's Sophomore year we lost 92-86. Staten and Harris were on fire for WVU, they led by 20 points! Joel was injured (did not play) but Wiggins played a great game! He scored 41 points! (and the WVU crowd boo'd him every time he touched the ball).

Perry's Junior year we lost a buzzer beater "nail biter" 62-61. Perry received a great deal of criticism from our own KU Fans for missing that final shot! Perry's Senior year, KU played very poorly, the final score was WVU 74 - KU 63.

So tonight, we will play our first "Perryless" game there. The key to victory will be to minimize turnovers! I also hope Jackson and Bragg come ready to rumble!

Craig Alexander 4 years, 12 months ago

KU by 6 tonight. Frank and Devonte are focused and read to take care of the ball. There will be plenty of lobs tonight. While WVU tries to keep it close they will have a 3-game losing streak as of tonight. Let's go Hawks!!!

Ryan Zimmerman 4 years, 12 months ago

Agree with a lot of the above... WVU 2 losses in a row, 2 wins in Morgantown in a row vs the Hawks, etc. It's the perfect storm for a loss. Is what it is though. I don't think we'll go undefeated in conference play and with WVU, KState, Baylor road games still to go, we're going to drop some.

I've got WVU 78, KU 69

Craig Alexander 4 years, 12 months ago

Coming off of one loss would worry me more than two. After two losses, there is an opportunity to mess with their confidence. After two losses, they are more rattled than after one. Lobs and kickouts for threes will be our opportunities to take the crowd out of the game and rattle WVU.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 12 months ago

You're half right on the scoring. That's impressive.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 12 months ago

Ironically, I don't think that the turnovers will be a deciding factor. If OU and KSU can handle their press, we should be able to do so.

My biggest concern is that, having lost two games in a row, WVU knows that this is a crucial game for them to stay as a contender in the conference race. They have already lost 3 games, so a 4th would probably just about turn out the lights. I expect them play well and perhaps shoot "lights out."

Mike Greer 4 years, 12 months ago

I agree with your assessments Harlan, we should be able to handle their press and I hope you and I are correct on this one. With 5 good ball handlers on the floor; Mason, Graham, Jackson, Mykhailuk/Vick, and Lucas you would think turnovers should be at a minimum, especially since they know what's coming.

My guess is with Kansas coming in, they will turn up the pressure and the key is to break that press and score off the break. The other key is going to be good perimeter defense to keep Lucas out of foul trouble.

Caden Ford 4 years, 12 months ago

Good luck tonight Jayhawks!! You can do it!

Joe Joseph 4 years, 12 months ago

A loss to WVU tonight doesn't change anything for Kansas, especially with Baylor having already lost in Morgantown. Kansas still needs to win its home games and split the rest of its remaining road games. That would put KU at 3 or 4 losses in conference. No way is that NOT good enough to at least share.

A win does, however, make the path to winning the Big XII that much easier! And essentially make it easier to absorb an unexpected home loss or road loss to one of the lesser teams in the conference!

Kurt Eskilson 4 years, 12 months ago

Wasn't it the absolute destruction of Kentucky's press that led Roy's Jayhawks past Pitino's Wildcats in that 150 – 95 drubbing in 1989?

Mike Greer 4 years, 12 months ago

Don't get me wrong, I think Coach Self is great, and I've followed his success from ORU to KU and I'm glad as hell we have him. He was also able to do something Coach Williams wasn't, win a National Championship at Kansas. But, you know, every now and then, (and your post brought it to my attention) I miss the way some of Roy's teams could run up the score.

Kurt Eskilson 4 years, 12 months ago

As I recall, with a substantial lead Roy had mercifully pulled his starters. But the subs were still breaking the press and Pitino complained about it. Roy threw off his jacket and put the starters back in … boosting the record-high score.

Dee Shaw 4 years, 12 months ago

Good old Cry Baby Roy. Bill Self is no doubt a better coach than Roy Williams. Look at there head to head records.

Barry Weiss 4 years, 12 months ago

This one will probably come down to foul trouble. If any of our starters get 2 quick ones, this game could go south. Everything else seems fairly even.

Dee Shaw 4 years, 12 months ago

All HELL is ready to break loose with KU fans. It will be hilarious how we as KU fans will be in FREAK OUT mode. I actually think the Jayhawks have a tough road ahead. They have 12 games remaining on there schedule. I think they will go 8-4 but could go 6-6 there next 12 games. Most likely 8-4 but who knows. Look at the schedule.

@ W. VA = Loss @ Kentucky = Loss Baylor = Win Iowa St = Win @ K-St. = Loss @ TX Tech = Win W. VA = Win @ Baylor = Loss TCU = Win @ TX = Win or Loss OU = Win @ Oklahoma St. = Win or Loss

I love being wrong on my predictions. I hope I am. Prove me wrong Jayhawks. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

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