Will West Virginia be able to get to the free throw line against KU?
Team: West Virginia
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 107
All statistics from KenPom.com
• Offensive rebounding: Kansas has picked a nice year to be dominant on the defensive glass, as it faces yet another foe Monday that does a great job at hitting the offensive boards. WVU grabs 38.5 percent of its missed shots, which ranks 18th nationally, and leads the Big 12 with a 37.4 percent offensive rebounding rate since league play started. Unlike Oklahoma, which had a lot of players fare well on the offensive glass, the Mountaineers offensive rebounding comes mostly from two players: forward Deniz Kilicli and center Aaric Murray. Remember, KU shut down two elite offensive rebounding teams in Kansas State and Oklahoma last week, so we'll see if that trend continues.
• Getting shots up: West Virginia ranks just 124th in adjusted offensive efficiency, but that isn't because of a lack of field-goal attempts. The Mountaineers turn it over on just 18.5 percent of their possessions, which is 68th nationally. WVU also does a good job of avoiding opponent steals, as foes come away with swipes on just 7.8 percent of the team's possessions (21st nationally). This appears to be a game where KU might not get many transition opportunities unless center Jeff Withey is able to start the break with blocked shots.
• Getting to the free throw line: WVU has done a decent job of drawing contact offensively, posting the 109th best free throw rate nationally. Playing at a slightly below-average pace, WVU has averaged 22.5 free throw attempts per game. The Mountaineers have been especially effective drawing whistles at home, shooting 22 free throws against Kansas State and 31 free throws against TCU in its last two league home games.
• Shooting: West Virginia has been awful shooting both twos and threes, as the Mountaineers have made just 29.2 percent of their threes (311st nationally) and 43.8 percent of their twos (299th nationally). In case you're wondering, only 29.1 percent of WVU's shots are threes, so don't expect the Mountaineers to try to work around Withey by bombing away. Looking deeper, WVU has had big problems finishing shots at the rim, as it's made just 54 percent of its layups/dunks/tipins (NCAA average is 61 percent).
• Fouling too much: WVU ranks 211th nationally in defensive free throw rate, with opponents averaging 20 free throws attempted per contest. That weakness hasn't gotten any better in Big 12 play, where the Mountaineers rank seventh out of 10 teams in defensive free throw rate.
• Defensive rebounding: The Mountaineers grab 67.3 percent of opponents' missed shots, which ranks 208th nationally. KU has improved its offensive rebounding in Big 12 play (33.8 percent compared to 32.7 percent) but still isn't a team that relies much on it much for offensive production.
3 Players to Watch
• Six-foot-10 center Aaric Murray (No. 24) is WVU's best offensive option. He makes a team-best 52.7 percent of his twos (59 of 112) and is especially productive at the rim, making 65 percent of his close shots. He does an above-average job at getting to the free throw line, drawing 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes while making 73 percent of his freebies. Defensively, he's WVU's best shot-blocker (69th nationally), offensive rebounder (188th nationally) and defensive rebounder (89th nationally). One of the only things holding him back is playing time, as he's averaging just 21.9 minutes per game.
• Six-foot-9 forward Deniz Kilicli (No. 13, looks like a Mountaineer, see photo above) is a good rebounder but overall a below-average offensive player. He's best on the offensive glass (211th nationally) and drawing fouls (5.9/40 minutes, 89th nationally), but his production is dragged down by a poor stroke at the free throw line (34 of 67, 51 percent). The senior has struggled to make shots inside, shooting just 43 percent from two-point range and 51 percent on shots at the rim. He also will turn it over on occasion and is not a factor when it comes to shot-blocking.
• WVU fans have to wonder why 5-foot-11 guard Jabarie Hinds (No. 4) won't stop shooting. He fires up a team-high 27.1 percent of the Mountaineers' shots (252nd nationally) despite the fact he's the team's worst offensive player. He's made just 38 percent of his twos (42 of 112) and 26 percent of his threes (26 percent) while not even playing aggressive enough to get to the free throw line (just 29 attempts). Hinds' close shot numbers are astounding, as he's made a team-worst 38 percent of his layups/tips. Hinds does a good job of avoiding fouls defensively (69th nationally), but with as reckless as he is on offense, KU should want to keep him on the court.
Like Oklahoma, West Virginia doesn't appear to have the personnel to change into a three-point shooting team to try to take down KU. Most of the Mountaineers' scoring will have to come from inside and at the free throw line, and while a one-game uptick shooting can happen, it's not something WVU should be banking on.
If the Mountaineers are to stay close and have a chance at winning, they'll almost certainly have to do it by drawing fouls and getting to the line. Doing that while also getting a couple early fouls on Withey would be a good formula for the Mountaineers to stay competitive in the first half.
Offensively, KU could have its transition points limited by another team that doesn't turn it over often, meaning the Jayhawks will most likely have to rely on half-court offense for their scoring. That hasn't worked out well recently for KU, which has struggled partly because of passive guard play, with Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe hesitating to drive past overplaying defenders.
With the way KU's defense has been playing, though, the Jayhawks should be fine even if they aren't great offensively, especially if Withey can stay out of foul trouble and KU can continue to keep its team fouls low.
Kansas 66, West Virginia 55
Hawk to Rock
I'll go ahead and double-down on Jeff Withey and predict that he stays out of foul trouble. WVU gets 54.4 percent of its points from twos (108th nationally), which means Withey should have plenty of opportunities to impact shots inside, much like he did against Oklahoma. I'll go with five blocks for Withey and say he helps the KU defense hold WVU to sub-35 percent shooting from two-point range.
18-1 record, 211 points off (11.1 points off/game)
Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
Average: 4.2nd in KUsports.com ratings