MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — We welcome you to the start of Big 12 play, where No. 16 West Virginia travels to No. 3 Kansas to attempt something its never done: Win at Allen Fieldhouse.
WVU (11-1) is 0-7 there, but that isn’t exactly out of the norm. Kansas (10-2) is an impressive 750-109 (87.3%) in its home arena. In comparison, WVU is 555–159 (77.7%) playing inside the Coliseum.
The task at hand today is simply more than a game for the Mountaineers. As West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said, “Well, it’s hard not to think about the happenings at Allen Fieldhouse over the years. Not just us, but for other people. I think that’s always in the back of their minds.”
Just what might Huggins be thinking of when saying this? Probably this game back on Feb. 13, 2017, when the Mountaineers held a 64-50 lead with 2:58 left in regulation. Kansas pulled out an 84-80 overtime win:
There have been other games of note. In 2018, Kansas held a 35-2 advantage in free-throw attempts and Huggins was ejected after seeing enough of that. In 2015, a WVU team playing without injured guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne held an 18-point lead in the first half, only to see the Jayhawks come back and win in OT, 76-69.
But, today is a new day and this is a new group of Mountaineers who are hungry and confident to erase a lot of wrongs from last season. We’ll see how the latest chapter plays out.
Here’s what you need to know:
TV: ESPN+ (online stream only, subscription needed). By now, you have already formed a strong opinion — either way — on the Big 12 Now network. What we can tell you is it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The Mountaineers will have four more games on ESPN+ this season (Jan. 29 at Texas Tech, Feb. 12 vs. Kansas, Feb. 15 at Baylor and March 7 vs. Baylor).
Next season, it is expected WVU will have more, including their preseason exhibition, as well as the seven non-conference home games that were broadcast on either AT&T SportsNet and Nexstar this season … and then however many Big 12 games are added on to that. The best guess here is WVU could play up to as many as 13 or 14 games on ESPN+ next season, so just be warned.
BETTING LINE: Kansas is a 10-point favorite.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
G–Jordan McCabe, Soph., 6-0, 188 3.0 ppg. G–Jermaine Haley, Sr., 6-7, 215, 10.5 ppg. F–Emmitt Matthews Jr., Soph., 6-7, 210, 9.4 ppg. F–Derek Culver, Soph. 6-10, 255, 11.0 ppg. F–Oscar Tshiebwe, Fr., 6-9, 258, 11.8 ppg.
F– David McCormack, Soph., 6-10, 265, 8.8 ppg. C–Udoka Azubuike, Sr., 7-0, 270, 13.0 ppg. G– Marcus Garrett, Jr., 6-5, 195, 9.0 ppg. G– Devon Dotson, Soph. 6-2, 185, 18.8 ppg. G– Ochai Agbaji, Soph. 6-5, 210, 11.6 ppg.
THREE GOOD QUESTIONS
HOW DOES WVU HANDLE KANSAS’ GUARDS? To me, this is the key to the game. Dotson is likely on his way to becoming the Big 12 Player of the Year this season and Garrett has played in so many big games. Off the bench, Kansas brings in 3-point shooter Isaiah Moss, a transfer from Iowa, who is shooting 42% from behind the arc.
As a group, Kansas’ guards are a tad more athletic and more experienced than what the Mountaineers saw in their victory last week against Ohio State. Dotson will be a real challenge to stay in front of for either McCabe or Miles McBride. If WVU has to keep playing help defense and sliding over to help on the guards, that leaves space open for Azubuike for a lob. Guard play will be the thing to watch today.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WVU WINS? A victory by the Mountaineers at Allen Fieldhouse would have to answer every question that poll voters still have about this team. There really wouldn’t be any excuses not to leap WVU into the top 5 with a win at Kansas. Entering the game, WVU has already played the No. 2 schedule in the country, according to the NCAA’s NET rankings. That obviously isn’t going to drop after playing the Jayhawks. If WVU were to win and the Mountaineers weren’t in the top 5 next week, voters should have their privileges stripped.
WHO HAS TO STEP UP FOR THE MOUNTAINEERS? Matthews has been a little off the past two games for WVU, but his versatile play could make a big difference. If he’s able to knock down some shots, that may stretch Kansas’ big men a little further away from the basket. The big thing will be rebounding. The Mountaineers need an extra rebounder today and Matthews will likely be the first one they look to.
McCabe and McBride have to find a way to hold their own against Dotson. How will Culver and Tshiebwe play Azubuike? Even though Azubuike is a senior, he missed most of last season with a wrist injury, so Culver has never faced him before.
If anything has been proven this season it’s that no men’s team in college basketball is unbeatable. There is probably more parity this season among the top 40 teams than in quite awhile.
With all of that said, will the refs let the four big guys play or are the going to call a lot of fouls? My guess is there will be a lot of fouls called, which could keep this a lower-scoring game. Kansas is too tough at home, but WVU keeps this closer than the 10-point spread and covers, 64-56.
JUSTIN’S SEASON PREDICTIONS AGAINST THE SPREAD: 4-7.