College Basketball Betting Preview: Kansas Jayhawks at West Virginia Mountaineers
Wednesday’s college basketball card features plenty of quality games, but none are bigger than the Big 12 clash between #3 Kansas and #14 West Virginia. The game takes place in Morgantown and tips off at 7 pm ET. This is the second meeting between the two teams, following a January 4th encounter at Kansas, which the Jayhawks won 60-53, thanks to a dominant second-half performance. Let’s take a look at the two teams, and what we might expect in this return matchup.
Kansas has had a fantastic start to the season, going 20-3 overall and 9-1 in conference play. The team did lose at home against now top-ranked Baylor, but the other two losses came on a neutral floor against Duke by two and by a single point at Villanova. The team is ranked third in the nation, but does head up the KenPom rankings. Likewise, West Virginia can make a claim to being ranked too low, as it currently is 14th in the polls, but a solid seventh in KenPom. Both teams are 13-10 ATS, however the Mountaineers’ average cover margin of +4.1 is better than Kansas’ figure of +2.6. Kansas, though, is 6-2 ATS as a road favorite this year, with an average cover margin of +6.0. West Virginia, in fairness, is 3-1 ATS as an underdog, with an average cover margin of +6.8. Something has to give.
While a major issue for most teams when facing the Jayhawks is Kansas’ size advantage, West Virginia may not be as hard up as others in this regard. The team is led by two great front-court rebounders in Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver and actually out-rebounded Kansas 41-27 at Allen Fieldhouse in January. However, Kansas’ big man still proved the difference against West Virginia in that game. Udoka Azubuike had 17 points on 6-for-6 from the floor, grabbed 11 rebounds and put up six blocks. Tshiebwe went toe-to-toe with Azubuike, however, posting 17 points to go along with 17 rebounds. He will have to match the Kansas star again here. Interior scoring is likely to be critical in this game. West Virginia ranks third in the nation in opponents’ three-point percentage, at 27.6%, while Kansas is holding opponents to only 28.9% from distance itself, good for 17th nationwide. In the teams’ previous meeting, the two clubs combined to shoot only 6-for-31 from beyond the arc.
West Virginia has been spectacular at home this year, going 12-0 ATS and 8-4 ATS, with an average cover margin of +7.2. In conference play, this has held firm. The Mountaineers are 5-0 at home in-conference and 4-1 ATS. West Virginia have won going away in each game.
Much like the January encounter, this promises to be a defensive battle. West Virginia ranks in the 99th-percentile nationwide in points per possession allowed this season, while Kansas ranks in the 98th. Kansas and West Virginia are first and second respectively in KenPom’s adjusted defensive rating. It is in adjusted offensive efficiency, though, where there is a bit of a gap. Kansas ranks 13th and West Virginia slots in at 51st.
While West Virginia’s defense is excellent in all major areas, it is not as strong in the pick and roll as it is in spot up situations and transition. The Mountaineers’ rank in the 85th-percentile in pick and roll defense, allowing 0.64 PPP. It is here where the Jayhawks may be able to open things up, even if just slightly. Kansas excels in pick-and-roll offense, ranking in the 95th-percentile, scoring 0.89 PPP. In what should be a tight matchup, this particular area could well determine the victor.
West Virginia’s defense should keep it in this game, but on offense there are real problems. This is one of the worst transition offenses in the entire nation, but it’s also hardly efficient in the half-court. The team ranks in the 38th-percentile in half-court offense, scoring only 0.84 PPP. Kansas’ half-court defense is dominant, surrendering only 0.74 PPP, placing it in the 98th-percentile. It’s hard to see where West Virginia can go in hopes of scoring the ball consistently.
While the Mountaineers covered as a ten-point underdog in the teams’ most recent matchup, Kansas is 6-2 ATS in the last eight meetings. West Virginia is currently listed as a 1.5-point underdog for tonight’s game, and it seems like a bit of an over correction. While West Virginia’s home form is unquestionably strong, the Mountaineers were 11-1 before the game at Kansas. The team has already dropped four conference games. West Virginia has lost to Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech in addition to Kansas, and the Jayhawks are 3-0 against those common opponents. West Virginia lost by ten to Oklahoma last Saturday, whereas Kansas went to Stillwater and handily beat the Sooners 66-52. This win came despite the absence of valuable guard Devon Dotson. Points should be hard to come by in this game and its often in battles like this where the superior talent will tell, and emerge with the win at the end of the day. The short number suggests there may be value on a Kansas team that may just be the best in the country.