The box score will tell you that #1 Kansas was beat by #11 West Virginia by 11 points. In reality, it seemed much worse. For the first time since November 17, the Jayhawks walked out of a basketball arena as a loser on Tuesday night, falling in Morgantown for the third straight season.
Going into the game, the gameplan was pretty simple. To avoid an upset loss, Kansas needed to protect the ball against West Virginia’s non-stop, aggressive press defense. On Tuesday night, the Jayhawk guards were clearly rattled by the Mountaineers’ style. Frank Mason committed a career-worst seven turnovers. Wayne Selden Jr. added six of his own, which was also the most in his 87-game career. In all, KU turned the ball over a season-high 22 times, which prompted coach Bill Self to remark, “In practice, I really thought we prepared to attack (their press). Obviously, we weren’t.”
The second phase of the game where Kansas lost on Tuesday night was at the free throw line. After shooting nearly 90% in Saturday’s road win at Texas Tech, KU shot just 62% (13/21) at the stripe against the Mountaineers. On the flip side, West Virginia’s overall percentage wasn’t significantly higher (70%), but it attempted 26 more free throws and made 20 more than Kansas. KU committed a season-high 32 fouls in all. And this wasn’t the fault of the officials; the Jayhawks fell behind West Virginia’s frontcourt and had to foul to prevent easy baskets many times.
After going back-and-forth for the first few minutes of the game, the Mountaineers established control by holding Kansas to one field goal between the 15-minute and seven-minute mark of the first half. West Virginia led by eight at the break, and the game pretty much stayed around that margin for the rest of the night.
The Jayhawks got as close as four points with 14 minutes left in the game. Perry Ellis scored seven points in a 9-0 run that cut a 13-point deficit down to four, but the Mountaineers’ defense buckled down to hold KU to just two field goals over the next nine minutes of play. The biggest lead for West Virginia was 14, and if not for some late garbage time three-pointers by Jayhawks bench players, it would have been more.
Rebounding was pivotal in the game. The Mountaineers are the nation’s top team in offensive rebounds per contest, and they snagged 15 of them against Kansas. Without an established post threat to start alongside Ellis, West Virginia attacked the Jayhawks’ biggest weakness by sending Devin Williams and Jaysean Paige driving into the paint all night long. The duo combined to score 43 points and shoot a whopping 29 free throws. Self constantly shuffled centers, giving Hunter Mickelson, Landen Lucas, Jamari Traylor, and Cheick Diallo each a chance to be effective.
Mickelson was probably the best – and he scored two points and had two rebounds in five minutes. Lucas led the group with six rebounds, but picked up four fouls. Neither Traylor nor Diallo attempted a shot. The Jayhawks remain one of the best five teams in the country, but it’s clear that teams have figured out where they’re vulnerable, and Bob Huggins provided America with a blueprint on how to attack KU’s defense.
Ellis paced Kansas with 21 points. On a night when every other Jayhawk had a disappointing performance, the senior forward led the team in points (21), rebounds (7), minutes (38), assists (3), and steals (2). He made eight of KU’s 20 total field goals.
If you’re looking for silver linings, the Jayhawks’ defense held the Mountaineers to just 33% shooting from the floor. West Virginia made just three three-pointers all evening, and it committed 11 turnovers.
Is this just a game to throw out? Maybe. After all, Kansas is 14-2 and will likely re-tie West Virginia atop the conference after Saturday’s action. KU will rebound against TCU at home, while the Mountaineers travel to Norman to play #2 Oklahoma. The Jayhawks’ top two guards just had the worst games of their careers. KU won’t play a better defense all season. Does any of that matter?
Rotation questions remain for Self to figure out regarding his big men, and Tuesday night made the need to establish some sort of pattern even more apparent. When someone steps forward and provides KU with quality minutes at the center position, the Jayhawks’ last hole will have been filled. But until that day comes, the Jayhawks remain arguably as vulnerable as any of the top teams in the Big 12, and now their opponents know it.
- Perry Ellis: 21 points (8/14 FG), seven rebounds, three assists in 38 minutes. There is nothing bad that anybody with any rationality whatsoever can say about his performance.
- Frank Mason: 12 points (3/6 FG), two assists, and seven hideous turnovers. His two assists are a season-low. He looked fatigued as he labored through his 33 minutes. Playing against “Press Virginia” requires tons of energy, so there’s no reason to think it’s anything more than just a bad game.
- Wayne Selden: 11 points (3/7 FG) in 25 minutes. All three of his baskets were three-pointers.
- Devonte’ Graham: seven points (2/7 FG), three assists, and three rebounds in 31 minutes. He really hurt KU’s comeback chances by missing the front end of two one-and-ones down the stretch.
- Svi Mykhailiuk: 0/4 from the floor in 17 minutes. He did not play well despite getting his most minutes since December 5.
- Brannen Greene: 0/2 from three-point range in 11 minutes. Kansas tried to have him inbound the ball for much of the first half. It didn’t work.
- Hunter Mickelson: two points, two rebounds in five minutes. It makes little sense why he continues to start, because after he’s taken out of the game three minutes in, he rarely sees the floor again.
- Landen Lucas: two points and six rebounds in 15 minutes. He was probably the best center KU had on Tuesday night, despite the four fouls.
- Jamari Traylor: two points and four rebounds in 11 minutes. Nearly all of his action was in the first half.
- Cheick Diallo: no points in four minutes. He’s a complete non-factor at this stage in the year.
- Carlton Bragg: three points, which came on a garbage-time three-pointer, in six minutes.
- LaGerald Vick hit a three-pointer in the last two minutes of the game as well.
- KU shot 42% (20/48) from the floor, 50% (10/20) from three, and 62% (13/21) at the line.
- Compared to West Virginia, those first two marks are superior. The Mountaineers shot 33% (19/57) from the field and 25% (3/12) from three.
- West Virginia out-rebounded KU by just two (41-39), but the Mountaineers more-than-doubled Kansas on the offensive glass (15-7).
- 12 steals for the Mountaineers. Twelve! They also had 10 other forced turnovers that weren’t steals!
- Up next for Kansas: vs. TCU at home on Saturday at 1:00 pm.