Busting Brackets

Kansas vs. West Virginia: 2020-21 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Dec 22, 2020; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Christian Braun (2) dribbles the ball against West Virginia Mountaineers guard Taz Sherman (12) during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 22, 2020; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Christian Braun (2) dribbles the ball against West Virginia Mountaineers guard Taz Sherman (12) during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Two top-25 squads out of the Big 12 in the West Virginia Mountaineers and Kansas Jayhawks will meet in a pivotal conference rematch.

TV schedule: Saturday, February 6, 2:00 pm ET. CBS

Arena: WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia

After suffering setbacks to top-25 squads – and rebounding with wins over the bottom two squads in the Big 12 – the Kansas Jayhawks and West Virginia Mountaineers will meet in a showdown of two nationally ranked teams looking for a marquee win.

The Jayhawks (12-6) – after beginning the season 8-1 – have endured a tumultuous stretch since the start of the 2021 calendar year, going 4-5 – and 2-4 in their last six.  After embarking on a rare three-game losing streak, the Jayhawks have picked up victories over TCU and, most recently, Kansas State – with a 19-point shellacking at Tennessee sandwiched in between.

In a year where blue bloods have uncharacteristically struggled, the Jayhawks had, seemingly, stood apart from the bunch – but are now back in the hunt to redeem themselves, particularly after their woes at Tennessee.  Their 74-51 romp against Kansas State might be the start of that redemption, considering they held the Wildcats to 0.80 points per possession while averaging 1.16 themselves.

Behind a 52.6% clip on two-pointers, 17 assists on 29 made field goals, and a whopping 13 offensive rebounds, Kansas featured four double-digit scorers – an extremely optimistic sign given their recent offensive woes.  David McCormack and Christian Braun – in his first double-digit game in two weeks – led the way, pouring in 18 points apiece, with McCormack going 9-14 from the floor while hauling down 10 rebounds.  Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson also tallied double-figures with 15 and 10, respectively.

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They will face a similarly frustrated West Virginia (12-5) squad, who – just days after picking up a season-defining home win over Texas Tech – fell in Morgantown to a then-unranked Florida squad.  Just like Kansas, the Mountaineers rebounded – albeit, not nearly in as convincing of fashion, barely putting away the Iowa State Cyclones on the road, 76-72, on Tuesday.

Ever since Oscar Tshiebwe’s well-documented departure from the team – and the subsequent shift to their renowned “Press Virginia” style – the Mountaineers have become Miles McBride’s team, although the sophomore struggled to get much going against Iowa State.  Instead, the Mountaineers had four double-digit scorers – none of whom were McBride – in Taz Sherman (18 points), Derek Culver, Emmitt Matthews, and Sean McNeil – with the latter three scoring 13 points apiece, and Culver hauling down a game-high 12 rebounds.

Much of what has made West Virginia successful in the Big 12 was on opposite display against Iowa State – they uncharacteristically struggled from outside, were forced to rely on inside play, defended Iowa State fairly well inside, but were woeful defending the Cyclones from beyond the arc.  What proved to be the catalyst for West Virginia’s win, however, was their dominance on the boards – where 15 offensive rebounds led to 17 second-chance points, compared to just three second-chance points for Iowa State.

These two teams met earlier this season, back on December 22nd in what was one of Tshiebwe’s final games as a Mountaineer.  With Culver shut down inside, the Mountaineers relied on guard play – and, courtesy of a stellar first half from McNeil, actually maintained a lead a minute into the second stanza.  However, McNeil’s struggles in the second half – paired with McBride getting into quick foul trouble – ailed the Mountaineers in what yielded a 79-65 win for Kansas.

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had – arguably – their best team performance all season in that game, seeing all five starters reach double-digits.  Braun, who has been wildly inconsistent all game, poured in six three-pointers to finish with 22 points, all the while dishing out a game-high seven assists.  The Jayhawks were a blistering 16-37 from beyond the arc – and just 12-26 inside.

Much has changed since that game, obviously.  Tshiebwe is now gone and West Virginia’s identity has changed drastically, and, arguably, for the better.  The Jayhawks, meanwhile, have dipped significantly since that performance, recording just one win over a team in the top 90 in KenPom (Oklahoma) while dropping five games to teams within that range.

Ultimately, this game could come down to outside play – and whose shooters show up.  More than likely, the Mountaineers will struggle to get much of anything going inside – they rank last in Big 12 play in 2P% (43.4%), and they will be facing the league’s best defensive team inside in Kansas.  The Jayhawks are holding teams to just 44.6% inside.  Contrarily, the Jayhawks are solid offensively (51.6%) while the Mountaineers struggle defensively (53.0%).

That bodes well for Kansas – but if West Virginia hopes to win, they will need McBride, McNeil, and Sherman to be hot.  The Mountaineers rank second in the Big 12 in 3P% at 41.7%, and the Jayhawks are woeful at defending long-range bombs, surrendering a 36.9% clip (8th in the Big 12).  Likewise, much like the difference in 2P% – Kansas struggles shooting from outside (33.2%) while West Virginia is solid defensively (33.3%).

At this rate, this game does not carry much weight by way of the Big 12 title race – but both these teams need this win to keep afloat in the national rankings, as well as to continue in proving their legitimacy.  Kansas could use this win to boost their resume and to prove that they are still a force to be reckoned with despite their recent struggles – while a win for West Virginia would prove just how far the Mountaineers have come since their shellacking at Kansas back in December.

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If either team has proven themselves as of late, it is West Virginia – and, considering Kansas is 0-4 in their last four road outings, with all coming against teams in the top 40 in KenPom – this is ultimately the Mountaineers’ game to lose.  But they desperately need their guards to show up – and hope that Braun does not go off for another career-game.

Prediction: West Virginia 74 – Kansas 68