MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — From Chamberlain-Russell to Robinson-Olajuwon, basketball’s history is defined by compelling battles between big men in the post.
That’s not so much the case anymore.
Spacing is the thing, with teams rolling out three or even four guards to spread the floor and penetrate to the rim to either score or kick it out for a three. Centers are starting to resemble another famous large and lumbering creature — the dinosaur.
That is what makes Wednesday night’s game between No. 14 West Virginia (18-5, 6-4 Big 12) and No. 3 Kansas (20-3, 9-1) such a special treat. This isn’t just a Top 15 showdown, but a matchup of two of the nation’s top big men in KU’s Udokza Azubuike and WVU’s Oscar Tshiebwe.
Azubuike leads the Big 12 with 9.7 rebounds per game, while Tshiebwe isn’t far behind with 9.1 rebounds per game.
Azubuike is leading the country in field-goal percentage, making 75.9 percent of his shots. Many of those shots are virtually impossible for the 7-foot, 270-pounder to miss because they are uncontested dunks.
The Jayhawks excel at drawing in opposing post defenders to stop point guard Devon Dotson from driving through the lane — and with Dotson leading the league with 18 points per game, it’s hard to fight that urge — whereupon Dotson flips it up for Azubuike to throw down.
“We cannot help up [on defense],” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, noting that West Virginia’s guards must do a better job of preventing penetration.
The tactic was one Kansas used repeatedly in its 60-53 win over the Mountaineers in the Big 12 opener at Allen Fieldhouse. Azubuike was 6 of 6 from the field and finished with 17 points in that one.
“That lob, we’ve talked about it,” Tshiebwe said. “If I leave him, they’ll throw the lob. If we stop them from going to the rim, if we move really quick on defense, we will win the game.”
That game also served as Tshiebwe’s introduction to the Big 12. The talented freshman more than held his own, playing a monster game with 17 points and 17 rebounds. After the game Azubuike called Tshiebwe the toughest player he’s gone against in his four-year Kansas career.
“It is tough — he’s a senior and I’m a freshman, and he’s got a lot of experience from being in college a long time,” Tshiebwe said. “We expect to [bring out the best in each other] again.”
No. 3 Kansas (20-3, 9-1) at No. 14 West Virginia (18-5, 6-4)
WVU Coliseum, 7 p.m.
TV: Streaming only (ESPN-Plus)