Gameday Breakdown- No. 3 Kansas at West Virginia Mobile

No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks (13-1 overall, 2-0 Big 12) at West Virginia Mountaineers (10-4 overall, 0-2 Big 12)

Time: 5 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023

Location: WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, West Virginia

TV: Big 12 Now/ESPN+ | Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network via Learfield

Keys for Kansas

1. Rebound, rebound, rebound

Kansas coach Bill Self has been thrilled by the play of sophomore big man KJ Adams so far this season. But if there’s one area he would like to see Adams improve the most, it’s on the defensive glass.

Self said as much this week — while noting that he was being unnecessarily critical — and Adams’ effort on the glass could be a huge factor in this game.

The Mountaineers are +4.6 rebounds per game for the season and +10.5 on the glass in their first two conference games — losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

“They always rebound the ball,” Self said this week, when asked about the Mountaineers, who are 248-73 all-time under Bob Huggins when out-rebounding their opponent.

Keep an eye out for former Texas Longhorn Tre Mitchell in this area. He had a double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds in a loss at Kansas State and he also tallied 19 points and 11 rebounds against Seton Hall. Six-foot-10 forward Jimmy Bell Jr. leads the Mountaineers at 6.1 rebounds per game.

A lot of WVU’s rebounding effort often comes from the fact that both the team and the crowd are so turned up when Kansas comes to town. It’s always a game to make headlines and, in this case, it’s an opportunity to get on the right track after two losses to start league play.

“They’ll be thirsty, hungry,” Self said. “They’ve lost two games that they could be 2-0 in and instead they’re 0-2. And we’ve won two games that we could be 0-2 in. That’s how good our league is right now.”

2. Get to the free throw line

In their recent win at Texas, the Kansas State Wildcats made 31 of 33 trips to the free throw line in pulling the upset over the 6th-ranked Longhorns.

While that outcome had no direct impact on the Jayhawks, it served as a reminder to Self that his team needs to do more to get free points like that.

“Guys, we shot 14 free throws in two games,” Self said of KU’s first two Big 12 games. “We haven’t got to the free throw line at all. And our opponents have shot quite a bit more. I’m not saying anything about officiating, but we’ve got to find a way to get to the free throw line.”

Self’s squad has shot 29 fewer free throws than its opponents so far this season, which is roughly two per game. With the Jayhawks’ first two Big 12 games being decided by two point and three points, those opportunities could wind up being huge and Self wants to see his team force the issue more to get to the line.

“The way that you do that if you play the way we play is to drive it,” he said. “Hopefully we can become better at that.”

Oklahoma State and Texas Tech combined to shoot 18-of-23 at the free throw line against the Jayhawks earlier this season. While that’s only nine more attempts than Kansas, it led to 10 more makes. So not only do the Jayhawks need to do a better job of getting to the line, they also have to make the free throws when they get there.

KU is shooting 68.6% at the free throw line so far this season and 57.1% in Big 12 play, but the Jayhawks are shooting at an 81.2% clip at the line (56-of-69) in the last six games.

The Mountaineers lead the Big 12 in free throws made per game (14.4) and are 20th nationally in free throw attempts per game.

3. No style points; just win

Self said this week that, with the Big 12 being as good as it is, no one should feel like they need to apologize for winning. And the Jayhawks certainly won’t do that if they’re able to pull this one out.

KU is 4-6 all-time at WVU Coliseum, one of the few venues where Self and the Jayhawks have struggled throughout his 20 years at Kansas.

“They’ve given us problems there,” Self said. “We’ve struggled there. There’s been many times there where they’ve controlled the game from start to finish.”

Asked about his success at home against Kansas, Huggins noted that the key was taking an attacking mindset into the game.

“You’ve got to beat them,” Huggins said. “But you need some breaks, too. “It’s kind of like Bill’s got a four-leaf clover in his pocket. He got those two guys a year ago (Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun) that are both pros now that weren’t even being recruited by people. Gradey Dick was the same way.”

Winning at WVU has been an indicator of serious success on the horizon. KU is 2-2 in its last four trips to WVU and the last three KU wins in Morgantown have come during pretty meaningful seasons. The Jayhawks won in 2018, which ended at the Final Four. They won in 2020, when they wound up being the likely No. 1 overall seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled because of COVID. And they won their last year, a couple of months before winning a national championship.

“It’s a coincidence,” Self said. “Because if you go back and look at the times we’ve lost there, we’ve been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament the majority of the times we’ve lost there. So, I would say that we’re probably reading into it a little bit too much. But let’s go win there. Maybe that’ll bode well for us down the road.”

Marquee Matchup

KU point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. and Bobby Pettiford vs. West Virginia’s pressure defense

There’ll be no more daring Dajuan Harris Jr. to shoot the ball from the outside this season, and Harris has no one to blame for that but himself.

KU’s point guard has made his last seven attempts from behind the 3-point line and is starting to show what his teammates have coaches have known for a long time — that he’s much more than just a point guard.

Harris can score when needed and he’s always been a good shooter. His ability to balance his scoring and play-making in this one will be important for the Jayhawks, who will want Harris to have the ball as much as possible against WVU’s relentless pressure.

Self said earlier this season that what he had seen from West Virginia so far was that they were back to playing the way Huggins prefers to play.

“If they don’t press, they pressure,” Self said of WVU. “They put pressure on you defensively to go make plays, and they’re great at taking charges and all that.”

Harris will be KU’s primary weapon against that, but when he doesn’t have the ball, Pettiford may and the sophomore will need to be strong and decisive or things can get away from him and the Jayhawks in a hurry. We’ve seen it before with some of KU’s most seasoned guards.

Transition buckets, a good whistle, back-breaking runs and a wild home crowd all contributed to that. And history has shown that the best way for Kansas — or any team — to thwart all of those elements is with strong play at the point.

Probable Starters

No. 3 Kansas

G – Dajuan Harris Jr., 6-1, 175, Jr.

G – Kevin McCullar Jr., 6-6, 210, Sr.

G – Gradey Dick, 6-8, 205, Fr.

F – Jalen Wilson, 6-8, 225, Soph.

F – KJ Adams, 6-7, 225, Soph.

West Virginia

G – Erik Stevenson, 6-4, 205, Sr.

G – Kedrian Johnson, 6-3, 185, Sr.*

F – Emmitt Matthews Jr., 6-7, 210, Sr.

F – Tre Mitchell, 6-9, 225, Sr.

F – Jimmy Bell Jr., 6-10, 285, Sr.

* Ruled out before tipoff with a concussion. Iowa transfer Joe Toussaint expected to start in his place.

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