Monday, January 15, 2018

Game day Breakdown: No. 10 KU basketball at No. 6 West Virginia

Kansas coach Bill Self is escorted off the court as West Virginia fans rush the court after defeating the Jayhawks 74-63 on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, at the WVU Colliseum in Morgantown, W.Va. The rematch will be Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas coach Bill Self is escorted off the court as West Virginia fans rush the court after defeating the Jayhawks 74-63 on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, at the WVU Colliseum in Morgantown, W.Va. The rematch will be Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.


No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks (14-3 overall, 4-1 Big 12) vs. No. 6 West Virginia Mountaineers (15-2 overall, 4-1 Big 12)

Time: 8 p.m. | Location: WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, West Virginia

TV: ESPN | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network

Log on to for our live game blog coverage and follow the staff on Twitter: @KUSports @mctait @TomKeeganLJW @bentonasmith @nightengalejr @chasenscott & @nickkrug

Keys for Kansas

1. Play loose and let it fly

With so much talk about KU’s losing streak at West Virginia and how difficult is has been for the Jayhawks to play well inside WVU Coliseum over the years, the Jayhawks know that they’re going to have to play one of their best games — if not the best — of the season to have a chance in this one.

While a handful of young guys will be experiencing it for the first time, guys like Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick know all too well what it feels like to walk out of the arena after being worked over by Bob Huggins’ squad.

And with tonight’s game representing the last shot for Graham and Mykhailiuk to feel a different vibe on the way to the bus, you can bet that both KU seniors are going to do everything they can to get themselves and their teammates in the right frame of mind to come out with a victory.

“It’s going to be a big one,” Graham said. “Hopefully, we can come out with a W, because I don’t want to go 0 for 4 there.”

Asked what it would take for the losing streak to end, Graham pointed to playing less timid and more like this team does in front of the Allen Fieldhouse fans, as hard as that might be to replicate.

“I think everybody just has to come with an aggressive mindset,” Graham said. “The way they play and press, we’ve got a lot of guys that can attack them and get them in foul trouble or just make plays for each other. And we’ve obviously got to take care of the ball.”

2. Attack the press

West Virginia’s “Press Virginia” mantra is a way of life in Morgantown, not just a strategy on the basketball court. But too many WVU opponents help make the Mountaineers’ nasty press effective by letting it get into their head before the game even begins.

Graham and KU coach Bill Self said the best way they’ve found to beat the press is by attacking it with confidence and using crisp passes, quick decisions and unselfish play to get the Mountaineers on their heels a little bit instead of pushing forward with an eye on a steal.

West Virginia leads the Big 12 in turnovers forced at 19.9 per game, which ranks third nationally, and also in turnover margin at plus-7.9, which is second nationally.

WVU also leads the conference in steals per game (9.9, sixth nationally) and enters this one averaging 39.6 rebounds per game, with a plus-4.8 rebound margin.

Following Saturday’s win over K-State, KU coach Bill Self said he had a lot of film work ahead of him in the next 24 hours, with the goal being to find some way — any way — to bring calm to a chaotic environment.

“You would think a formula would be multiple ball-handlers,” Self said. “But we’ve had Frank (Mason) and Devonte’ go up there and had problems with that. With (WVU guards Jevon) Carter and (Daxter) Miles out there, they create so much havoc. And, if they take Graham out, now you’re putting the ball in somebody else’s hands that hasn’t had the ball in his hands all year long. So we’ve got to come up with some stuff.”

3. Azubuike must be huge

The Mountaineers are not just quick and creative on defense. They’re also big. Three players in the starting lineup standing 6-foot-8 and three more on the bench standing 6-8, 6-10, 6-11, the Mountaineers often play 10 deep and let that size and depth wear opponents out.

That puts the onus on KU sophomore Udoka Azubuike to create problems for that WVU front court on both ends of the floor.

While staying out of foul trouble on the defensive end is a must, Azubuike also must mimic the job he did against K-State as an offensive weapon, posting up deep and strong and getting a position that either forces the opposition to foul or leads to easy buckets.

“He definitely did,” said Graham when asked if Azubuike posted up better than he had all season against Kansas State. “And coach has been on him about that, posting deeper so the trap can’t come and making quick moves. He definitely got their bigs in early foul trouble, so he’s doing a good job. We just have to keep throwing him the ball.”

He’ll need a rest. And the addition of 6-9, 245-pound freshman Silvio De Sousa — eligible for his second game as a Jayhawk — could help in spurts. But De Sousa’s inexperience and Mitch Lightfoot’s lack of size aren’t going to be enough inside for Kansas in this one.

The Jayhawks need Azubuike to have one of his best all-around games to have a chance.

Mega Matchup

KU junior Lagerald Vick vs. himself

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Kansas guard Lagerald Vick. Not long ago, he was leading the Jayhawks in scoring and hearing all kinds of “next level” talk associated with his name. Now, he has not 10 points in a single game in KU’s last four outings.

To say Vick has disappeared entirely would be unfair. The 6-foot-5 junior has come up big twice late in the second half in each of the Jayhawks’ last two games, grabbing two big offensive rebounds and scoring in a win over Iowa State and hitting back to back 3-pointers — both of which tied the game — late in the win over K-State on Saturday.

After ripping off a four-game stretch in which he shot 23 of 41 from the floor and exploded for 58 points in those four games, Vick is just 11 of 28 — both makes and attempts are down — in his last four games for 28 points.

Despite the struggles, Vick’s minutes have not suffered as a result. The Memphis native has averaged 31.3 minutes per game during his mini-funk.

While those signs-of-life moments have been good for both Vick and the Jayhawks, there’s no debating the fact that it’s hard to see Kansas making its way to a 14th consecutive Big 12 regular season title without Vick finding his touch again.

The Mountaineers are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country (ninth in the country at 14.5 offensive boards per game, compared with KU, which ranks last in the Big 12 in allowing offensive rebounds), so if Vick wants a place to focus in this one that does not have to do simply with scoring, hitting the defensive glass and helping the Jayhawks value every possession for dear life would be a good place to start.

If he’s able to, that could lead to better numbers in all aspects of his game, and his experience, athleticism and ability to score inside out could end up being crucial for Kansas in a tough road environment like West Virginia.

Jayhawk Pulse

In what was, on paper, their easiest remaining week of the season — two home games against teams ranked outside of the Top 50 — the Jayhawks had to scratch and claw to survive.

Such is life in the Big 12 Conference this season, and, with Kansas set to enter a stretch that includes two road games at Top 10 opponents in a three-game stretch, the Jayhawks are going to have to take their focus, execution and effort to another level to survive the way they did last week.

First up is the always-nasty road trip to West Virginia, where Kansas has lost four consecutive games and, worse than that, almost never played well, win or lose.

The travel is long, the Mountaineer fans are ruthless and the game almost always comes on a short turnaround and ends with a court-storming by the home crowd as the sound of John Denver rains down from the loud speakers. All are factors that figure to make an already difficult game even harder.

West Virginia trails the all-time series with Kansas, 7-4, but owns a 4-1 edge in games played in Morgantown. The Mountaineers also are 4.5-point favorites in this one and both the players and the WVU fan base know that, if they want to be the team that ends KU’s Big 12 title streak, this is one they have to have.

“It'll be a fun atmosphere,” Self said. “Our guys like those.”

Probable Starters

No. 10 Kansas

G – Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 185, Sr.

G – Malik Newman, 6-3, 190, Soph.

G – Svi Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Sr.

G – Lagerald Vick, 6-5, 175, Jr.

C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 280, Soph.

No. 6 West Virginia

G – Daxter Miles Jr., 6-3, 200, Sr.

G – Jevon Carter, 6-2, 205, Sr.

F – Wesley Harris, 6-8, 200, Soph.

F – Lamont West, 6-8, 230, Sr.

C – Sagaba Konate, 6-8, 260, Soph.


Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 8 months ago

TTU wouldn't have won had their missed 2 FTs. They made 24 out of 28. That's 28 fouls. Even if our guards can create fouls out of the havoc, we better be ready to shoot 80-90%!!!! Hopefully, we can cut the snake head, that is Carter.

Let's go Jayhawk!

Matthew Coleman 4 years, 8 months ago

Lets hope the refs dont fail to call a foul a foul. By fouling on almost every possession, WVU makes it hard on refs who want to keep fouls counts even.

Freddie Garza 4 years, 8 months ago

Looks like WVU is going to be short one starter after Wesley Harris was caught on camera punching a TTU fan as they stormed the court.

We better take advantage.

Edward Daub 4 years, 8 months ago

Yes, but Esa Ahmad is back after sitting "1/2 a season" for failing a "drug test - pot" and will fill that spot (if and when Harris is suspended). I went Last Year , and the WVU "Powers to Be" are now selling "Beer at the Games"! Mountaineer Fans are already Obnoxious, and the Wisdom of WVU Athletics "Serving Fuel" is "Highly Questionable"! Oh well, I am packing my Flak Jacket to "Go Again"!

Gary McCullough 4 years, 8 months ago

I thought alcohol sales were prohibited at all NCAA sanctioned events.

Yonatan Negash 4 years, 8 months ago

The Losing in streak in Morgantown ends today


Bryce Landon 4 years, 8 months ago

I want to believe you're right, but if these guys can barely beat two lower-tier Big 12 teams by a combined 6 points, I have a hard time believing we'll win in Morgantown.

Yonatan Negash 4 years, 8 months ago

Hey Bryce -

Without going into too much details, here is why I like our chances to break the streak:

If we do well in the following categories, we'll win the game.

Field Goal Percentage (Best in conference) 3-Point FG PCT (Best in conference) 3-Point FG PCT Defense (Ranked 3rd in conference

Additionally, I just don't believe WV has anyone that can deal with Udoka Azubuike. WV has never played against or seen Udoka Azubuike, so that's going to be a challenge for them. Lastly, Udoka Azubuike will help KU spread out the offense even more and if we can hit the 3, it's a win. Those are my thoughts.

I realize, there are a lot of ifs and yes anything can happen. But going into this game, I love KU's chances.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 8 months ago

If Frank Mason lost there four years in a row, does anyone really think this squad can break the streak?? Well, the Minnesota Vikings just showed the world that anything is possible!!

Robert Brock 4 years, 8 months ago

Can KU handle the press? Can the Hawks overcome committing 20+ turnovers? Better shoot lights out (whenever getting the ball beyond mid-court).

David McNickle 4 years, 8 months ago

Need 5 to 10 minutes of some sort of zone defense. This team cannot stop penetration.

Dillon Davis 4 years, 8 months ago

WVU is now 7.5 favorites...crazy but I wouldn't be surprised if that's the outcome.

Eric TheCapn 4 years, 8 months ago

Nice preview, Matt. Just curious: What do you mean by, "West Virginia’s 'Press Virginia' mantra is a way of life in Morgantown, not just a strategy on the basketball court"? Is there a big printing press in town, or do residents drink a lot of cold-press coffee?

Matt Tait 4 years, 8 months ago

Haha. No. Nothing like that, but there are shirts and signs everywhere and the locals LOVE the style of play and tough nature of Huggins' team.

Mike Greer 4 years, 8 months ago

I hate watching "press Virginia", if the officials made all the foul calls they should, the game would be over at halftime as they would run out of players.

Sure hope the team can pull this one out.

Craig Carson 4 years, 8 months ago

I can't see THIS KU team winning today... Graham is the only true ball handler we have..Svi and Vick are decent but get sloppy too often..I think this is a game where zone D and 2 bigs for small stretches might be needed..Newman and Vick need to show up big ...if KU avoids being blown out I'll consider it a victory...they will have much better luck next year with a full roster of players and Carter and Miles being gone

Brad Watson 4 years, 8 months ago

Matt....First of all....I think you do a great job.....FYI....I have noticed that the KUSPORTS.COM countdown clock is wrong all the time....its wrong again today....find someone to correct it makes the site look bad and people tune in at half....not the hardcores but the people that are busy and can't always pay attention to start times....3 times i have noticed this in about 3 weeks...not trying to bust your .....Go Hawks!

Brian Babcock 4 years, 8 months ago

I believe game times are an hour early because that is when pregame coverage starts.

Brad Watson 4 years, 8 months ago

tipoff is 8:05 cst....the countdown clock would make it 9:05 cst

Edward Daub 4 years, 8 months ago

Gary , I don't know about NCAA Rules but Oliver Luck started selling beer at WVU football games 5 years ago. Big 12 Tournament in KC last year, beer was also served. On the bright side, I am in Morgan"Pit"!

Kent Richardson 4 years, 8 months ago

Press Virginia is just the start. Teams are able to break the press with regularity. It's what to do when it's broken. You are alone at the three point line after an over the top pass from your guard and you hesitate, you drive and put up an off balance try, you relax thinking the worst is over and you are trapped and all the while the incessant slap at the ball is happening. Nothing upsets WVU like refs calling fouls on the reach in slaps. They go ballistic. Huggins intimidates and his players whine. Udoka will have it knocked away every time.

Be ready for the press but be more ready to act when you break it. Svi and Vick be ready to take the three "in rhythm." Shoot 40 of them if they are open. You cannot effectively back it out and reset against them. If you do better get it into Udoka.

Crash the freaking boards and make your FT's.

Play the zone defense especially with the new guys in.

Probably a loss and maybe a wake up call. If only coach will do what I tell him. Ha Ha.

Brad Watson 4 years, 8 months ago

This is the game of the tough are we?...Shooting 3's cannot win you this game....West Virginia likes to rub you all night....the game tonight will be won in the paint and on the boards...if we can limit them to 1 shot ...we will look at the scoreboard at the end and finally get a win over there. Gotta be tough tonight...PERIOD!

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