SCOUTING THE JAYHAWKS
Kansas' name speaks for itself in college hoops, but if more backup is needed, consider this. The Jayhawks have won eight consecutive Big 12 regular season titles, and have won at least 23 games in each of the last 23 seasons.
Continuing that streak this year is a foregone conclusion, given KU's senior dominated lineup. The Jayhawks have four final-year players in their starting lineup, and all combine to give them stability and consistent play across the board.
On the front line, forward Kevin Young and center Jeff Withey do a tremenous job of controlling the glass. The seven-foot Withey hauls down 8.4 per game, while Young adds 6.7. They also combine for a bit more than 20 points per contest, and rarely take bad shots in Kansas' efficient offense. Withey, a former volleyball player, shows excellent timing to go with his height, as he's blocked 82 shots on the season.
Senior guards Elijah Johnson (6-4) and Travis Releford (6-6) are supported by freshman Ben McLemore (6-5) to give the Jayhawks a big backcourt. McLemore actually leads KU in scoring (16.2), and while he certainly benefits from all of the experience around him, he isn't productive due to inattention from opposing defenses. He's an excellent shooter, hitting 51% from the field and 45% from three, and also makes 88% of his free throws.
If McLemore's shooting is impressive, Releford's is eye-popping. He hits more than 60% of his shots from the field, with almost a quarter of those coming from distance. That lets him average 12.7 point per game while attempting fewer than eight shots per contest -- a remarkable efficiency rate. Johnson isn't quite as sharp from the field, but he still hits 34.6% of his threes to contribute 9.5 points per appearance.
Naadir Tharpe (So, 5-11) gets the majority of the substitute work in the backcourt, although head coach Bill Self does spot in a couple of other players for short stints. Tharpe contributes 5.3 points per game, and also keeps the offense moving with a better than 2-1 assist to turnover ratio.
In the paint Perry Ellis (Fr., 6-8) and Jamari Traylor (Fr, 6-8), who have combined for three starts earlier in the season, spell Young and Withey. Both know their roles and don't step outside them, with Ellis adding 5.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, and Taylor adding 2.3 and 2.7.
Overall, the Jayhawks are about what you'd expect from a program with only one loss on the season.
They understand how to move the ball to get good shots, and don't force them. They do turn the ball over a bit more than might be expected, but they counter that with excellent shooting and solid defense, which gives them a .480-.349 shooting percentage advantage over their foes. They might not have quite the raw talent of some other Kansas teams, but their play on the court is what counts, and there's not many ways to pick a hole in their results. They are a serious Final Four contender, and with a couple of breaks could win it all.
The Jayhawks do have a couple of small chinks in their armor, but West Virginia is ill-suited to take advantage of them.
Four Jayhawk starters combine to play more than 125 of the 200 available minutes of each game, which might leave them vulnerable to a team that plays with all-out intensity and forces them to match effort on every possession. Unfortunately, West Virginia has not shown itself to be that team. The Mountaineers have put together stretches where they apply defensive pressure and take foes out of their offensive game plan, but at some point that usually collapses. Kansas, with a veteran squad, isn't likely to get frazzled by anything West Virginia throws at it, so the Mountaineers aren't likely to win with any defensive wrinkles or changed tactics.
9:00 PM E
WVU 9-10, 2-4
KU 18-1, 6-0
WVU - 98
KU - 2
Bob Huggins has extended WVU's defense to apply more pressure in the backcourt in recent games, and that could have an effect. Kansas has been a bit loose with the ball, tallying 249 turnovers on the season, but some of that has been due to their pace of play. Still, look for West Virginia to try to put a bit more pressure on KU's guards in order to whittle down the shot clock and keep the Jayhawks from running completely through their sets.
As usual, Kansas has an excellent defense. It smothers opposing guards with the height and size of its own, and rejects shots on those few opponents that manage to penetrate the lane. KU has finished no lower than third in the Big 12 over the last ten years in field goal percentage defense, and is number one in both the league and the nation this year. It's hard to imagine West Virginia, which has struggled to even get shots away at times this year, having consistent success against the visitors' disciplined, determined defenders.
Kansas marks the 13th opponent with a top three ranking to play at the WVU Coliseum and in Morgantown. The last was No. 2 UCLA on Feb. 10, 2007, a 70-65 WVU victory.
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In Bob Huggins' worst two seasons as a head coach, he won 12 games at Akron and 14 games at Walsh College. Both of those came in his first year on the job at those schools. With nine wins this year to date, West Virginia might struggle to surpass that latter mark.
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Every four-year player under Bill Self at KU has been part of at least one Final Four team.
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Kansas has gone 262 games without consecutive losses, which is the longest active streak in NCAA Division I. KU’s last two straight losses were Jan. 14 vs. Kansas State (59-57 in Allen Fieldhouse) and Jan. 16 at Missouri (89-86 overtime in Mizzou Arena), during the 2005-06 season.