The Opening Tip: Kansas a 1-point favorite on road against WVU

For all of Kansas’ success this season, the Jayhawks still haven’t had to go on the road and defeat a ranked team.

That will change on Tuesday, when the No. 1 team in the country will have to go into Morgantown, West Virginia to face off against West Virginia.

This game by most advanced metrics is considered a toss up, and Vegas agrees that it should be a tight game.

Who will come out on top? Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape:

Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Opening Line: Kansas by 1

Scouting the Jayhawks: What more is there to say about the No. 1 team in the country at this point? Bill Self’s team is humming along at a level higher than anyone else in the country right now, with both their offense and defense ranking in the top-eight units nationally.

Offensively, the Jayhawks have a terrific post threat in Perry Ellis, a two point guard look with Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, and a really solid wing in Wayne Selden. That group, along with wings Brannen Greene and Svi Mykhailiuk, has combined to knock down over 45 percent of its 3s this season. However, the key to this one for them will come more with preventative measures. As will be discussed below, West Virginia is terrific at forcing takeaways. The Jayhawks should be better positioned than most to survive the onslaught of high-pressure defense with both Mason and Graham as terrific ball-handlers.

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Defensively, as usual, Self’s team does a good job of contesting shots inside with big guys like Hunter Mickelson, Landen Lucas, Cheick Diallo and Jamari Traylor at center. They also do a nice job of running teams off the 3-point line, and they can also force turnovers. This is a tough team to face off against, and the Mountaineers’ creators will have their hands full.

Scouting the Mountaineers: Bob Huggins has built a tough, physical team yet again. They defend like crazy with a full-court press, make the most of second-chance opportunities, and force turnovers to get out in transition for baskets. However, how will that work against Kansas?

Here’s what you’re getting with the Mountaineers. They’re currently No. 1 in turnover percentage defensively, No. 2 in 3-point percentage against, and No. 1 in offensive rebound percentage. They compete on both ends, utilizing a roster that goes 12-deep to keep energized and get the kind of intensity they’re looking for. It’s also worth noting that their press is also pretty tough to gameplan for, as its heavy trapping style isn’t really similar to many others that you’ll see around the country. Simply put, when they force turnovers and grab offensive rebounds, they’re extremely difficult to beat.

Key Matchup: Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton against the Jayhawks’ frontcourt

The Kansas guards will likely be able to break the press, just due to their great ability to limit turnovers. That means that for West Virginia to win it’s probably going to have to do a massive job on the offensive glass. The Jayhawks have been above-average on the defensive glass (40th in the country thus far with a 74.1 defensive rebounding rate), but not quite elite thus far this season so there is room for the Mountaineers to succeed here.

Williams and Holton will be the keys. The 6-foot-8 Williams is having a great year, averaging 14.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, but is in the top-30 nationally in offensive rebounding rate. Next to him, the 6-7 Holton is actually No. 1 in the country with a 21.5 percent offensive rebounding rate. If those two can create second chances for the Mountaineers, maybe they can get just enough offense to pull together the slight upset.

Bob Huggins will look to lead an upset bid over Kansas. (USATSI)
Bob Huggins will look to lead an upset bid over Kansas. (USATSI)

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