There haven’t been many larger games this college basketball season than Tuesday night’s Big 12 matchup between No. 3 Kansas and No. 7 West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse.
Eager for the very first December meeting in a combative series with the Mountaineers and fiery coach Bob Huggins, KU’s Bill Self speculated earlier in the week it would be “one of the five biggest pre-Christmas games of the college season.”
Regardless of personal biases or opinions on the merits of specific matchups, this earlier than usual Big 12 game — thank you very much, 2020 — is one of just a handful so far this season to feature two top 10 teams.
The ultimate nonconference game on the calendar, No. 1 Gonzaga versus No. 2 Baylor, got canceled — a sarcastic thanks a lot to 2020 this time — making the first round of KU-WVU the seventh top 10 showdown of the season.
Actually, hyping this game is a rather sly way for Self to get us thinking about the biggest games of the year, which happen to regularly feature the team he coaches. (Just kidding about this being calculated, by the way. If KU scheduling high profile games was Self’s point he would’ve said as much.)
This will be KU’s third top-10 battle already, with the Jayhawks losing to No. 1 Gonzaga in their season debut and beating then-No. 8 Creighton in Allen Fieldhouse a couple weeks later.
WVU (7-1) would have already had a top 10 game on its résumé, too, if pollsters would have ranked the Mountaineers a little higher before the season began. WVU came up short, 87-82, against Gonzaga on Dec. 2.
From a player’s perspective, veteran big David McCormack said KU-WVU “is a pretty big game,” particularly since it comes right before the players take a holiday break, with some of them leaving Lawrence to return home for a few days.
“Everybody wants to go home on a win,” McCormack said. “And it’s going to just be a momentum changer, just to help us keep pushing forward.”
For Self, the West Virginia games typically are accompanied with anticipation.
“A lot of time if you go back and really study the games that we’ve played, the games have actually lived up to the hype,” Self said of the series. “And that doesn’t happen very often. We’ve had some great games with them, especially in our building.”
KU leads the series, which didn’t begin until 2013, 14-5. Six of the games have been decided by six or fewer points and the Jayhawks have split those games decided by two possessions or less, 3-3.
In other words, get ready for another hard-nosed classic.
2020-21 games to date between top 10 teams
No. 1 Gonzaga 102, No. 6 Kansas 90
No. 8 Michigan State 75, No. 6 Duke 69
No. 2 Baylor 82, No. 5 Illinois 69
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Baylor PPD
No. 5 Kansas 73, No. 8 Creighton 72
No. 6 Illinois 83, No. 10 Duke 68
No. 1 Gonzaga 99, No. 3 Iowa 88
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 7 West Virginia
Recent KU-WVU top 10 matchups
No. 10 Kansas 71, No. 6 West Virginia 66 (Jan. 15, 2018, at WVU)
No. 3 Kansas 84, No. 9 West Virginia 80 OT (Feb. 13, 2017, at KU)
No. 1 Kansas 81, No. 9 West Virginia (March 12, 2016, Big 12 championship game)
No. 6 Kansas 75, No. 10 West Virginia 65 (Feb. 9, 2016, at KU)