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January 28, 2013
Kansas visiting West Virginia for Big Monday
For the first time in Big 12 play, No. 2/1 Kansas (18-1, 6-0) will take on the West Virginia Mountaineers (9-10, 2-4) on ESPN Big Monday in Morgantown, W.V.
Fans hoping to see Kansas become a potent offensive team might have to wait just a bit longer.
The Jayhawks once again failed to reach the 70-point mark, but were outstanding defensively against Oklahoma in Lawrence, Kan., on Saturday.
The Sooners struggled to knock down shots and were, for the most part, contested on every look, particularly in the second half.
Ben McLemore scored 18 points and Jeff Withey was a do-it-all big man for Bill Self, scoring 13 points while snagging 9 rebounds, 4 blocks, and he even had 3 steals.
Monday night, the Jayhawks will head to Morgantown, West Virginia for the first time and take on the Mountaineers, now members of the Big 12.
West Virginia Head Coach Bob Huggins is familiar with Kansas, having coached Kansas State before he took the WVU job and headed back to his alma mater.
WVU has struggled this season and is two games under .500 in conference play. Coming off a loss to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers' two wins have come against Oklahoma in overtime, and against new Big 12 member TCU.
Monday, they are calling for the first ever "Stripe the Coliseum" in anticipation for one of the biggest games WVU has hosted. Kansas is looking to maintain its lead in the conference race as well as continue its current 17-game winning streak -- the longest in the nation.
Tip is scheduled for 8 p.m. (CST).
Kansas continues to make plays when needed and rack up wins. Offensively, they continue to struggle putting up points, but at this point, it has become something they aren't necessarily concerned about it either.
Bill Self maintains that although his team has struggled with its offense, it's not as much of a concern as most are making it out to be.
His concern at this point is the inconsistent play from his guards. Elijah Johnson still continues to struggle shooting the ball and at times his decision making has been suspect.
Sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe has played increased minutes and appears to have a crisp grasp of what Self needs from his point guard. Moving Tharpe to the point has also taken away some pressure from Johnson, who needs to be on the court as much as possible. While he may be struggling now, his experience and talent make Kansas a potential Final Four team.
Monday night, the Jayhawks are going to enter another tough road environment. West Virginia is playing Kansas for the first time and can make a big statement not only for its season -- which has been up and down -- but in the conference as one of the newly added members.
KU has been excellent on the road this year, making plays when they are needed and clamping down on the defensive end of the floor.
WVU has had problems on the defensive end of the floor and isn't the type of team which will put a ton of points on the board.
They gave up 50 points in the second half to Oklahoma State after holding the Cowboys to 30 in the first half.
Big man Aaric Murray is a big-time talent and could potentially give Jeff Withey trouble in the low post.
As they have done all year, Kansas will need to run its offense efficiently and rebound the ball. WVU is a typical Bob Huggins team and plays tough, physical basketball. They will want to keep the game low-scoring and keep KU out of transition.
KU needs to hold West Virginia to one shot and out on their possessions and get the ball up the floor to steal easy baskets. If they can take the crowd out of the game early and knock down shots, WVU simply doesn't have the offensive weapons to keep up.
G - Elijah Johnson (Senior, 6-foot-4, 195 pounds)
G - Ben McLemore (Freshman, 6-foot-5, 195 pounds)
G - Travis Releford (Senior, 6-foot-5, 207 pounds)
F - Kevin Young (Senior, 6-foot-8, 190 pounds)
C - Jeff Withey (Senior, 7-foot, 235 pounds)
Bench: Perry Ellis, Naadir Tharpe, Jamari Traylor, Andrew White III
West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia has played its fair share of big games at home. The Big East was loaded with powerhouse teams, and WVU was among them.
While they aren't nearly as good as past teams, the Mountaineers are well coached and have talent on their roster. Monday night will be the most amped up atmosphere of the year and will be the perfect environment for a possible upset win over what could be the No. 1 team in the country.
Huggins still searches for consistency with his team. So far in the Big 12, they have struggled with the teams at the top of the league outside of their overtime win against Oklahoma.
Defensively, they allowed Oklahoma State to hit 48-percent from the floor, and well over 50-percent from three. OSU also out-rebounded WVU 30-27.
In terms of scoring, West Virginia currently ranks 189th in the country in points per game. Their field goal percentage, just 39 percent on the year, is 314th nationally, which means the Mountaineers have a long way to go if they are to compete with the upper echelon of the conference.
Freshman guard Eron Harris has stepped up recently, starting the last four games for Huggins. In those four starts, he has led the team in scoring at more than 15 points per game.
Harris will have the duty of going against KU's vaunted backcourt and will likely draw the attention of both Ben McLemore and Travis Releford of Kansas. Both players are extremely athletic can score in bunches. Defensively, Releford is widely considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire country while McLemore is a solid defender as well.
In the low post, Aaric Murray, Kevin Noreen, and Deniz Kilicli are all big bodies which can give the Kansas big men problems. Jeff Withey has become a good offensive player, but his defense and shot-blocking is what makes him a weapon for KU.
When WVU guards drive to the rim, Withey either blocks shots or alters them with his presence alone.
Killicli isn't the best offensive player, but his size and strength could help keep Withey off the block and make it tough for him to get clean looks at the basket down low.
West Virginia will need to live and die with rebounding, grabbing loose balls, and hitting outside shots.
Against a team like Kansas which is balanced and good defensively, the Mountaineers will need to knock down outside shots and use them as an equalizer.
G - Gary Browne (Sophomore, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds)
G - Jabarie Hinds (Senior, 5-foot-11, 185 pounds)
G - Eron Harris (Freshman, 6-foot-2, 190 pounds)
F - Kevin Noreen (Sophomore, 6-foot-10, 250 pounds)
F - Deniz Kilicli (Senior, 6-foot-9, 260 pounds)
Bench: Aaric Murray, Juwan Staten, Keaton Miles, Terry Henderson
The Edge: Kansas
Kansas comes in on a 17-game winning streak and is looking to extend its lead in the Big 12 by remaining unbeaten.
West Virginia has struggled in the Big 12 and will have its hands full with one of the best defensive teams in the country. If they can rebound the ball and keep Kansas from getting easy baskets in transition, the Mountaineers have a chance, as KU has struggled on the offensive end as well.
The Jayhawks have been especially patient and deliberate on the road, focusing on their game plan and executing down the stretch. Kansas will need to avoid a shooting slump Monday night against what should be an amped up team playing its biggest home game of the year.
Elijah Johnson will need to control the tempo of the game and avoid careless turnovers which he has struggled with lately. The guard play will need to be better than it was Saturday and on the road Self will look to his guards to knock down open shots and make plays against a pressure defense.
WVU's big men will make it tough on Withey and Kevin Young in the low post which means Johnson, McLemore, and Releford will need to make plays on the offensive end.
KU - 68
WVU - 57