It’s senior day in Morgantown and the West Virginia Mountaineers sit squarely on the bubble with just one game to play before the treacherous Big-12 Conference Tournament. But the Jayhawks march into the WVU Coliseum trying to avoid their second loss in just three games. Kansas is a 5.5-point road favorite for the noon tip.
West Virginia hasn’t been unbeatable at home in the conference. The Mountaineers lost home games to Oklahoma State, Texas and, most recently, Baylor. But they also have some impressive wins, including a clobbering of Iowa State. It’s all about focus and energy for West Virginia and I expect Bob Huggins’ team to have lots of each in today’s game where a win would most likely thrust West Virginia in to the NCAA Tournament.
Joel Embiid is out for Kansas. The freshman from Cameroon is experiencing some discomfort in his back and Bill Self made the announcement that he will sit for the team’s final two regular season games. That doesn’t mean KU is totally lacking in the middle, though. Tarik Black will simply get more minutes for Kansas – minutes that will likely prove valuable for when he returns to a backup for the conference and NCAA Tournament. That said, West Virginia catches a break with avoiding Embiid. The lack of depth on the frontline means that Eron Harris and Juwan Staten will be able to finish much more effectively off of penetration – something that both like to do early and often for a perimeter-oriented West Virginia offense.
The key will be how West Virginia’s defense clamps down. The Mountaineers have struggled on that end of the floor just about all season but without Embiid, Kansas isn’t exactly an offensive machine. Andrew Wiggins will assume more shots as will Selden, Tharpe and Mason. But West Virginia doesn’t really have to worry about a post scorer, which means everything simplifies a little bit for the Mountaineers. In a spot where they need the win and Kansas could get caught off-guard, shorthanded in a early game, the Mountaineers could very well win this game outright. If not, there’s a great chance it’s close most of the way.
Free Pick: West Virginia +5.5