West Virginia is on a slide at the moment. The Mountaineers have lost five of their last seven and one of their wins in that stretch was against TCU at home. The other win was an inexplicable 102-77 victory over the Iowa State Cyclones. The moral of the story is this: West Virginia isn’t very good this year, but they have pieces that make them dangerous when they want to be. Here are some things to watch for as KU goes to Morgantown looking to finish off the regular season with a bang.
1. Black to Black? Pardon me if you have heard this from me before, but we don’t get stellar sequential performances from Tarik Black very often. Then again, we haven’t needed them all that badly either. KU will be without its prized freshman big-man Joel Embiid for the second consecutive game, this time on the road. Black is coming off a monster senior night performance, and the Jayhawks will need him to step up again on Saturday. Black was efficient in the first meeting, going for 11 points, but he contributed four personal fouls which limited his time. He will need to do as well or better this time.
2. Tharpe trending again? Naadir was better against Tech, but it would have been hard to be much worse than he was a game before that. I have said all along that KU needs him to be different things on different nights. That being said, for the remainder of the season KU will need him to be the exceptional leader and facilitator that he is capable of being. If we get into a pattern of relying on his scoring and big shot making to win ballgames going forward, it spells trouble for the ‘Hawks. If he is allowed to get into the groove as the point guard with plenty of talent around him to distribute to, we have the best chance for success. Here’s hoping that he is permanently back on the right track.
3. Avoiding the “trap game”. This will be a trap game if every KU had on this season. You are going on the road to a bottom tier team. It is the last game of a grueling regular season. The title is in the bag, the trophy kissed, the hats donned. I have always held that losing a game near the end of the regular season can be positive. It is good to have a team humbled one more time before each game counts in a big way. I have also always held that you never want to lose the last one, and probably not the last two games of the regular season. It kills the momentum heading into the post-season. KU was humbled at a hungry OSU. It will be interesting to see if they can bring the focus to WVU and keep the ball rolling into March.
Prediction: I don’t think this is going to be a very pretty game for Kansas. It feels like a game this young team may try to overlook. West Virginia could hang around at home in this one, and if Staten gets going, it could get scary for Kansas fans. Still, despite a slow start and a grind-it-out finish, I will take KU: 77-71