The Mountaineers' struggles continue on the court as they have now lost four of their last five match-ups. Next, they'll go up against a very formidable Jayhawks team, who show no signs of slowing down, and who show their weaker opponents no mercy.
West Virginia is coming off an 80-66 loss to Oklahoma State. With the Cowboys just one spot ahead of the Mountaineers in the Big 12 standings, West Virginia has to get its act together fast. Kansas does not fool around when it comes to basketball and West Virginia really needs to play the best basketball they can to keep this game from being a blowout. That is asking a lot from the Mountaineers, since this season they have not played well at all.
One problem they face is their three-point shooting. As a team they are shooting just under thirty percent from beyond the arc. The Mountaineers have got to start taking better shots from here if they want to either blow a team out or come back from a big deficit. West Virginia’s top three point shooter is Eron Harris, who is averaging about 43% from downtown. While he can get a nice rhythm going from out there, he has got to get the ball. Sometimes it seems as though he doesn’t get the ball enough. But when he does he will usually knock down the shot.
Another great three point shooter for West Virginia is Matt Humphrey. Humphrey is shooting 35% from three point land and in the past few games he has hit some big time shots. The Mountaineers will need for him to be Johnny on the Spot with his threes if they want keep the Jayhawks off balance. Against Iowa State, Humphrey was able to bring West Virginia back with a few critical threes and he will need to do this again on Monday. Since Humphrey has been starting the past few games he might be able to get hot early and give the Mountaineers a fighting chance in this game.
Aside from shooting threes, the Mountaineers have also struggled with their free throw shooting. In the beginning of the season, West Virginia could not miss from the foul line. Now they are struggling and it has cost them a few games. This seems to be a trend for the Mountaineers, as even last year they had problems shooting foul shots. And much like this season it cost them some very big games.
As a team they are shooting just under 70% from the line which is a little bit of an improvement from last year when they shot 67%. The Mountaineers know games can be won or lost from the foul line and while this probably won’t be a game they win, it is still crucial to make the freebies just in case the Jayhawks decide to slack off.
However, there is one good thing to say about the offense. The area where they are most dominant - offensive rebounding - has been excellent. In their past five games they have offensively outrebounded opponents 64-47. Aaric Murray leads the Mountaineers this season with 44 offensive rebounds, and what is even more impressive is that he has been doing this while coming off the bench. Another notable is Kevin Noreen who has 38 on the season and has been playing very well these last few games. The Mountaineers have been able to score a ton of second chance points, and they need to do this Monday if the Mountaineers have any hope of keeping the game close between them and the Jayhawks.
Switching over to the defensive side of the ball, West Virginia has to do a better job of stopping players from knocking down threes. Other teams have run wild from three point range and it is one of the big reasons why they have lost four out of their last five games. Kansas can be very deadly from beyond the arc as they are shooting about 37% from there. Their leading three point shooter, Ben McLemore is hitting around 46% of his three pointers. The Mountaineers have got to slow him and the rest of the Jayhawks down at all costs, or things will get out of hand fast.
Another problem they have faced while on defense is foul trouble. This has greatly affected the outcome of a few games so far this season and they need to ease up just a little. The biggest perpetrator of fouls is Deniz Kilicli; he usually ends up getting into foul trouble very early in the game and ends up sitting out for most of the rest of it. While it’s good he’s being aggressive, Kilicli sometimes might just need to back off a little bit. If he does it will benefit him - with more minutes - and the team - with his in the paint hooks - when they go on offense.
One positive about their defensive play has been their ability to force the other team to turn the ball over. Combined, West Virginia has stolen the ball 141 times while only allowing opponents to poke it away 99 times. Juwan Staten leads the Mountaineers with 23 steals on the season and he has got to poke it away at least eight times if West Virginia has any hope of winning this game. The Mountaineers have also caused opponents to turn the ball over 271 times this season and that could definitely play into their favor in this one. Kansas has turned the ball over 249 times this season and West Virginia has got to exploit this weakness.
As mentioned before, Ben McLemore is one player the Mountaineers have to watch out for. He is shooting 51% from the field and he is averaging 16.2 points per game. West Virginia has got to contain him at all costs. Otherwise this game could be over shortly after it starts. McLemore is also very good from the foul line, shooting 88% on the season. He is not someone that the Mountaineers (or Deniz) want to send there. If West Virginia has any hope of slowing him down, they have got to make him foul them. McLemore is currently third on the team with 34 personal fouls on the season and if they can get him into foul trouble then there may be some hope for the Mountaineers.
However, the chances of them winning this game are slim, and all they can hope to do is to keep it as close as possible. The Mountaineers definitely have their work cut out for them and all they can pretty much hope for is that this game won’t be a blowout. But, based on how the Mountaineers have played recently it looks like it will be.
Prediction: WVU-58 Kansas-87
WVU Player of the Game: Jabarie Hinds 13 points 3 rebounds 5 assists
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