West Virginia men’s basketball has a tough test ahead of them when they host the third-ranked Kansas Jayhawks on Wednesday.
While the Jayhawks (20-3, 9-1 Big 12) are one of the toughest teams to beat on their own floor, they seem to struggle when they travel to the Mountain State. Since the Mountaineers (18-5, 6-4 Big 12) have joined the Big 12, the Jayhawks have taken just a pair of wins at the WVU Coliseum in seven tries.
That means the Mountaineers have had the second-most success against Kansas of any team in the Big 12 since they joined the conference in 2012, trailing only Oklahoma State in terms of overall wins against the Jayhawks.
“I think we’ve become a rivalry for them because they don’t get beat very often,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins.
KU has always had a spot in the AP Top 25 in their meetings, while West Virginia has teetered in and out over the years — but the Mountaineers have seemed to relish their underdog moniker in this series. With the exception of the first Coliseum meeting in 2013, the underdog Mountaineers have taken the victory against the favored Jayhawks, including two instances in which KU was nationally ranked in the top two. Interestingly enough, WVU’s most recent home loss to Kansas was the only time in 18 meetings in which the Mountaineers were actually ranked higher than the Jayhawks.
Fans will also remember last season’s Mountaineer win at the Coliseum, which saw WVU prevail over No. 7 Kansas — arguably, the high point of an otherwise dreadful season.
More than a year later, both teams have already met one another at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Mountaineers fell by 7 points.
The January meeting between West Virginia and Kansas was dominated by the play of both teams’ big men, namely Oscar Tshiebwe and Udoka Azubuike. As the Mountaineers have made paint play their priority on offense and Azubuike currently leads the nation with a 74.9 field goal percentage, don’t expect that to change in the next matchup.
After a perfect shooting performance from the floor by Azubuike in January, West Virginia got a first-hand look at how difficult it is to defend the 7-footer.
“It is hard [to play against bigs like Azubuike], but you’ve got to do your job like the coaches say,” Tshiebwe said. “If you do your job, everybody else will be good, just do your job. They tell me I can guard him, so if I do my job, I’m going to make it easy for somebody else to do their job.”
Speaking of jobs, Azubuike’s is made significantly easier by the presence of Devon Dotson. The contrasting styles of their top two players makes them a difficult team to stop, especially when Dotson goes to the rim. When one defender leaves his assignment to help against Dotson, it generally leaves the big man wide open — which is what happened in January.
“[He’s a] very quick player, smart player. He gets downhill and finishes at the rim well,” said WVU senior guard Chase Harler. “We’re just going to try to make it as difficult as possible for him.”
Forcing Dotson to settle for jumpers can still be dangerous, but helping up can free up Azubuike — so the Mountaineers are hoping to keep the Jayhawks from getting inside at all.
“If they penetrate and the big helps, they just lob to Azubuike the big man,” Tshiebwe said. “We want to do a really good job of stopping penetration.”
Of course, with the series making its annual return to Morgantown, it’s difficult to tell exactly how things will go down. The game has officially sold out, which means the Coliseum will likely be full, or at least close to it. With that knowledge, Huggins has high expectations for the atmosphere.
“I hope it’s crazy,” he said. “I saw an interview that [KU coach] Bill [Self] did and he’s thinking it’s gonna be crazy, and I don’t want to disappoint Bill.”
The action tips off on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. For fans staying home, the game will be shown on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, while West Virginia Illustrated will be at the Coliseum providing live updates on our website and social media.