Game 34: No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Kansas – Preview and Prediction

With a Big 12 tournament championship on the line, the West Virginia Mountaineers get another crack at a Jayhawk team that swept them in the regular season.

The short-handed Jayhawks, who have strung together consecutive victories by double-digit margins for the first time since January, are back on the doorstep of another Big 12 championship. To get it, they’ll have to go through the Mountaineers, who are certainly eager to take down Kansas after blowing two games against them in the regular season.

About West Virginia: At 24-9 overall, the Mountaineers are inconsistent and streaky, but their best is as good as anyone’s in college basketball. Everybody knows about the press, and everybody knows about how good Jevon Carter is. But recently, Daxter Miles has suddenly started hitting threes at a high clip, which lifts their ceiling tremendously. By being dominant on the offensive glass and forcing a ton of turnovers, the Mountaineers have looked impressive in their wins, but their inconsistency has led to weird losses against last-place Iowa State and eighth-place Oklahoma State.

Game Info and Notes:

  • Saturday, March 10th at 5:00 pm
  • Sprint Center – Kansas City, MO
  • ESPN or WatchESPN App
  • Kansas hasn’t completed a calendar year without losing to the Mountaineers since 2013; they’re 8-4 all-time against them.
  • West Virginia has been pegged as a 1-point favorite.
Mountaineers to Watch

Javon Carter – 6’2″ senior, guard

Carter literally does it all for the Mountaineers. He scores, rebounds, assists and creates turnovers. He’s right up there with Devonte’ Graham as one of the best point guards in the Big 12. This season he’s leading the team in scoring at 17.0 PPG, 6.5 APG, and 2.9 SPG, but he’s also a great rebounder and creates havoc all over the court. He’s having somewhat of a Frank Mason-esque senior season, as his numbers are up across the board. His weakness is settling for long-range jumpers, which Kansas did an excellent job forcing him to do in the game in Morgantown.

Daxter Miles Jr. – 6’3″ senior guard

In early February, Miles was shooting 25% on threes. Beginning with his jaw-dropping performance at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, he’s been on fire from deep recently, which has risen his percentage all the way to 33%. He averages 13 points and does a little bit of everything else, but the problem with him is consistency. If he’s on, he’s going to be a problem for the Jayhawks again.

Sagaba Konate – 6’8″ sophomore forward

Konate announced his presence as a shot-blocking monster by swatting five Kansas shots back in West Virginia, but he’s continued his pace with a team-leading 3.3 blocks per game. He adds in 10.5 points and 7.7 rebounds. His post defense isn’t super strong, but he finishes well offensively and rejects anything that comes near him with his awesome two-handed swat style.

Prediction

West Virginia 76 – Kansas 71

AUDIO PREVIEW: LINK (go to 60:00 mark)

Ultimately, the Jayhawks can lose this game and still grab a No. 1 seed. They’re essentially bolted into the top line thanks to Duke and Xavier’s losses last night. In front of a pro-Jayhawk crowd, I think this will be close throughout, and Devonte’ Graham should break out for his first big game of the tournament. In order to win, Kansas needs somebody other than Malik Newman to step up and score 15+ points, because he’s been getting very little help from his guard counterparts from a scoring perspective thus far.

Ultimately, though, West Virginia is going to do everything in its power to get Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa in foul trouble, and unlike Oklahoma State and a Dean Wade-less K-State, they have the horses to do that. I think that foul trouble becomes a big problem for Kansas, and West Virginia maintains a five-to-seven point lead throughout the second half. I think the Mountaineers will make just enough free throws to escape with a Big 12 tournament title, but if Silvio De Sousa plays well and Kansas hits threes as its season average clip, it’ll be a coin flip until the very last horn.

Ryan Landreth

I’m a recent graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University. In addition to writing for Rock Chalk Blog, I host the Inside the Paint podcast that covers KU basketball, and I write for Royals Review in the summer. My grandma has had season tickets to Jayhawk basketball for 30 years, and I have the privilege of going to most games with her.