West Virginia enters the Phog

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Good day from snowy Kansas, where a Winter Weather Advisory is in place, but that won’t stop an anticipated sellout crowd of 16,300 from filling up Phog Allen Fieldhouse for what will be Kansas’ 290th consecutive sellout crowd, which dates back to the 2001-02 season.

One other interesting note: Since Bill Self took over as Jayhawks coach, no Big 12 team has ever pulled off a regular-season sweep of Kansas, which West Virginia (10-14, 2-9 Big 12), even with all of its roster problems this season, finds itself in position to do after pulling off a 65-64 upset of Kansas last month.

Kansas, too, is facing some issues. The Jayhawks (19-6, 8-4) will be without three of their top players today in center Udoka Azubuike and guards Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett. That’s 34.6 points and 14.4 rebounds out of their lineup.

“I don’t think it’s been as challenging with the different lineups as much as the different lineups have created ways you have to play differently,” Self said. “We’ve had enough depth to plug guys in, but when you plug those guys in, it totally changes our style and what we’ve been practicing and those sorts of things.”

We’ll see what happens, but for now, here’s what you need to know:

TV: ESPN for the 4 p.m. tip-off. BETTING LINE: Kansas is favored by  14 points.


What can we expect from this game? One of two things. Either a WVU team with nine healthy scholarship players — all of them underclassmen — will go into Allen Fieldhouse like a deer in headlights and get blown out. West Virginia’s last four losses have been by an average of 23.8 points per game. Or, the Mountaineers’ young players will be naive of the situation and play with a new sense of purpose. It will likely be the first option, but the Mountaineers have played well here in past years, although this team is not anything like recent teams.

What happened with Esa Ahmad and Wes Harris? Bob Huggins is already on record as saying he can’t discuss it. Assistant coaches and WVU athletic director Shane Lyons have been called and they have echoed the same. The wording of the release is what is interesting. In nearly 25 years on the job, I have seen “violation of team rules” hundreds of times. I have seen “we are aware of the situation and the matter will be handled internally” hundreds of times. I have never seen “a violation of athletic department policy” before. Tried to call WVU people to get a clarification on that wording — it might just be the school’s new fancy way of saying violation of team rules — but, of course, got no response. With the way WVU worded the release, it leaves the door open to wonder if this was something serious enough to get the NCAA involved. We do not have information at this time that is the case. The only clarification we have received is that both players remain enrolled in school, so that at least tells you it wasn’t something horrific.

Is Kansas going to win its 15th consecutive Big 12 title? Going simply by RPI projections, it looks like 13 league wins could be the magic number to win the conference or at least get you a share of the title. The Jayhawks have two tough games remaining. They travel to Texas Tech on Feb. 23 and host Kansas State two days later. It’s possible for Kansas to get to 13 if they win either of those two games. Kansas State has a slightly easier path and its possible it could get to 14 conference wins if the Wildcats can hold off Iowa State today, and that’s even with a loss on Feb. 25 against Kansas. Texas Tech is the wild card. If the Red Raiders beat Kansas on the 23rd, then you most definitely have a three-way race to the finish, although Texas Tech still has to travel to TCU and finishes the season on the road against Iowa State.

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