No. 9 Kansas already survived one nail-biter this week and Jayhawks coach Bill Self anticipates more difficulties this season against the stronger defensive teams in the Big 12 Conference.
Such teams include West Virginia (13-2, 2-1 Big 12), which brings an identical record as Kansas (13-2, 2-1) into their Saturday afternoon clash in Lawrence, Kan.
“They are going to pressure the crap out of us,” Self predicted.
The issue with that is two-fold for the Jayhawks. They have shown a tendency to commit turnovers in bunches and their quickest ballhandler, Remy Martin, is nursing a strained knee that kept him out of the 62-61 win over No. 15 Iowa State on Tuesday night.
That left Dajuan Harris as the only true facilitator. Harris also fulfilled a scoring role that featured a drive for the go-ahead bucket in the final seconds.
“When you’ve got Juan and Remy both back there, each playing 28 to 32 minutes, it’s a whole different deal as far as being able to handle pressure,” Self said.
West Virginia defenders will likely trap and guard underneath, tactics that have bothered the Jayhawks, who have averaged a minus-5 turnover margin and 43.8 percent shooting in Big 12 play.
“In practice, you can pass it where you want it or shoot 3s in transition at will,” Self said. “That ain’t happening in big boy games.”
Ochai Agbaji remains the threat most likely to find openings and drain shots, averaging 20.6 points on 53.3 percent shooting for KU. Christian Braun chips in 16.1 points.
Lack of production underneath is an issue. David McCormack’s minutes have diminished after being relegated to the bench at the start of Big 12 play. He averages 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds.
Self gave K.J. Adams his first start against Iowa State after previously inserting Mitch Lightfoot, but each struggle with consistency. The Jayhawks’ 81.7-point scoring average was largely achieved by blowing out inferior nonconference opponents.
“Defensively, we just turned it up a little (against Iowa State). That’s what it’s going to take to get wins in conference play,” Braun said.
West Virginia forced 17 turnovers, collected 12 steals and blocked six shots in winning their second straight game, defeating Oklahoma State 70-60 on Tuesday behind a career-high 22 points from Jalen Bridges.
“Defensively we played probably as well as we played all year,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
The Mountaineers will need to maintain their defensive intensity if they are to end an 0-9 drought in games played at Kansas.
One of Huggins’ primary concerns is offensive carelessness, a trait that surfaced down the stretch against Oklahoma State after West Virginia led by as many as 18.
“Dribbling in front of your guy just to show him you can dribble is not good,” Huggins said.
Taz Sherman leads the Mountaineers with a 19.9-point average. Sean McNeil, a streaky 3-point threat, averages 14.6.
West Virginia must play two more highly-ranked teams after Kansas: Jan. 18 against Baylor at home and Jan. 22 at Texas Tech.
–Field Level Media