Bob Huggins and his squad are taking their annual trip to Lawrence, Kansas to face the Jayhawks in a matchup that always seems to bring some fireworks to the court.
Typically, the season series between the Mountaineers and the Jayhawks begins at the WVU Coliseum several games into the conference slate, a matchup that the Mountaineers have won in five of their seven Morgantown meetings. Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, West Virginia has yet to earn a victory at Allen Fieldhouse.
“We have [had a lot of unbelievable games against Kansas] in a lot of ways,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins.
This will be the 18th overall meeting between the two programs since the Huggins-led Mountaineers joined the Big 12, including matchups in the Big 12 Tournament. In that span, the Mountaineers have only been able to get wins on their own court.
This year is different — not just for West Virginia but Kansas as well. The Mountaineers are clearly greatly improved from a season ago, already claiming a top victory before New Year’s Eve with a reinvigorated roster that has shown plenty of growth.
With the addition of Devon Dotson and the re-addition of Udoka Azubuike, Huggins says this Jayhawks team is different as well.
“Big boy basketball” inside
West Virginia and Kansas each boast one of the top frontcourts in the nation, with Azubuike headlining for the Jayhawks and the duo of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver doing the same for the Mountaineers. Along with Azubuike — who is listed above seven feet — the Jayhawks start David McCormack, a 6-10 forward who averages 8.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
The sheer size of the two teams’ big men led Tony Caridi to call this upcoming matchup a game of “big boy basketball” on this week’s episode of The Bob Huggins Show.
“I just hope they let them play big boy basketball,” Huggins responded. “You put those four guys in a confined area, there’s going to be some contact.”
Foul calls have been an issue for West Virginia whenever they play at Allen Fieldhouse. Last season’s contest was relatively tame — just 34 fouls called between the two squads — but seldom does that total get below 40. Most notably, there were 58 calls in the 2017 meeting which created a 15-shot free throw disparity favoring the Jayhawks.
The Mountaineers’ biggest issue down low may not be whistles, though, as Azubuike leads the country in field goal percentage, making a whopping 79.8 percent of his shots this season.
“He’s just so big and strong and he pushes you up the lane,” Huggins said. “They get a lot of where they throw it overtop of you and if you stay behind, he just backs you down. He creates a lot of problems.”
As foul trouble has been an issue as of late, Huggins says the Mountaineers will look to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible.
Can WVU slow Dotson down?
While West Virginia’s own freshman guard has turned heads across the country, Kansas’s Dotson is on another level so far this year leading the Big 12 in scoring with 18.75 points per game.
“I think he’s one of the better guards in the country,” Huggins said. “He can score it off the bounce, he’s a really good jump shooter, he’s got great speed in the open floor. He really makes their transition game go. I think he’s really, really good.”
West Virginia’s backcourt is more ever-changing than that of the Jayhawks’. Jordan McCabe and Jermaine Haley have both mostly gotten the starting nods this season, with Haley showing the prowess to take over games with his dynamic ability. But the Mountaineers have also gotten significant contributions from bench players like Miles “Deuce” McBride, Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman, among others.
How to watch
Saturday’s game will be shown on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, ESPN’s subscription streaming service. The service costs either $5 per month or $50 per year.
Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs will also have the radio call on the Mountaineer Sports Network from Learfield IMG.
Be sure to stop by WVIllustrated.com for live updates as the game unfolds on our live game log as well.