LAWRENCE, Kan. — With ambiguity surrounding Cliff Alexander’s eligibility, Juwan Staten’s knee and Gary Browne’s ankle, the Tuesday night lineups at The Phog remain, well, foggy.
There’s one guaranteed attendee for West Virginia-Kansas, however: The Bill Self bobblehead.
A bobblehead now, and perhaps a statue some year soon, for the coach who has kept Kansas atop the Big 12 for an unfathomable 11 consecutive seasons. After Monday night’s loss by Oklahoma clinched a share of the title, the Jayhawks can grab it outright by paying back the Mountaineers for a 62-61 loss in Morgantown two weeks ago.
Staten, the clutch commander that night, is questionable for the rematch with a sore knee. Browne, the Mountaineers’ No. 2 point guard and a co-starter, looms more questionable after suffering a severe-looking sprain on Saturday at Baylor.
Bob Huggins referred to both players as day-to-day, sounding decidedly unconvincing about their availability to play at Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas is 14-0 this season and 189-9 under Self.
WVU, along with Iowa State and Oklahoma, maintains thin hopes of a split championship, a scenario that would require the Jayhawks losing twice this week.
The freshman Alexander’s status remains equally dubious as the NCAA probes an eligibility issue potentially related to his days as a high school phenom in Chicago. Self said Kansas is holding out the 6-foot-8 forward as “a precautionary thing” until the case is resolved. Alexander was held out of Saturday’s win over Texas and might as well have been ineligible for the loss in Morgantown, where he started but played only six scoreless minutes.
Whereas Alexander has been spotty all season, junior forward Perry Ellis keeps piling up games ranging from consistent to incredible. His 28-point, 13-rebound effort vs. the Longhorns was among the latter, and has him in the running for Big 12 player of the year.
Of course, his cause would’ve been aided immensely by making the last-second layup at the WVU Coliseum, a gut-punch ending to a night on which Ellis scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half. The throngs of Twitter assassins who berated Ellis after that miss reveal that even the best fan bases can’t hide all their imbeciles.
May these people find the bobblehead bin empty.
No. 20 WEST VIRGINIA (22-7, 10-6)
at No. 9 KANSAS (23-6, 12-4)
Tipoff: 9 p.m. Eastern at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence (ESPN2)
Scouting the Jayhawks: Ellis (14.5 points, 7.1 rebounds) has grown this season from a role player into KU’s go-to option. More quick than powerful in the post, he also pops outside occasionally, going 15-of-39 on 3s. … The backcourt features underrated point guard Frank Mason III (12.1 points, 4.2 assists) and the uneven Wayne Selden Jr. (9.5 points, 3.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds), who’s shooting only 6-of-22 the past four games. … While the Jayhawks shoot the league’s best 3-point percentage (39.7), they made only 1-of-8 vs. Texas. … Freshman small forward Kelly Oubre (8.8 points, 5 rebounds) had 15 points and a season-high nine boards and three blocks vs. the Longhorns. … Brannen Greene (6.1 points) shoots 45 percent from 3, though he’s 2-of-14 the past five games. … With Alexander (7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds) likely out, it means increased minutes from 6-8 Jamari Traylor (4.4 points, 3.6 rebounds) and 6-10 Landen Lucas (2.6 points, 3.4 rebounds).
Coaching the Jayhawks: The 52-year-old Self has been such a huge success that when Coach K cracked the 1,000-win mark this season, many analysts began asking whether Self might one day do the same. At 555-180 overall and 348-75 in 12 seasons at KU, he might someday match Krzyzewski provided he can survive those dangerous court-stormings.
Mountaineer musings: West Virginia is 5-4 in true road games after Saturday’s setback in Waco. … Despite some standout performances, Staten (14.5 points, 4.6 assists) no longer appears to be a Big 12 player of the year candidate. It doesn’t help that he has missed two conference games. … Coming off a 25-point performance, freshman Jevon Carter (8.8 points, 2.5 rebounds) could be tasked once more with filling in at point guard. … Devin Williams (10.8 points, 8.1 rebounds) is aiming to bounce back from a subpar game at Baylor. … Jonathan Holton (7.9 points, 6.0 rebounds) and Daxter Miles (6.3 points, 1.2 steals) also figure to be in the lineup, though the fifth starter could be Jaysean Paige (5.6 points, 1.9 rebounds), Nate Adrian (3 points, 2.4 rebounds) or Tarik Phillip (3.4 points, 1.2 steals). …6-9 forward Brandon Watkins played 2 minutes at Baylor after sitting out four games. … BillyDee Williams played a season-high 16 minutes vs. the Bears, scoring six points and recording three assists. … Huggins (762-309 overall in his 33rd season) sits 12th on the NCAA career wins list. He’s 172-98 at West Virginia and earned a $25,000 bonus for beating Kansas.
RPIs: West Virginia 22, Kansas 2
Line: Kansas favored by 9
Prediction: Kansas 80-66