MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As players convened for Monday afternoon’s practice inside the empty WVU Coliseum, Elijah Macon speculated on how the atmosphere would ramp up to rowdiness by Tuesday night.
On deck are the Kansas Jayhawks, the first AP No. 1-ranked team to visit in a decade and the brand by which all other Big 12 programs are measured. With students back on campus and season ticketholders circling this game, the No. 11 Mountaineers are anticipating 13,000-plus in the arena.
“I’m sure Morgantown is getting fired up,” Macon said, “and everybody here doesn’t like Kansas either. It’ll be pretty fun.”
Macon actually dubbed the series a rivalry, a stretch given West Virginia’s newness to the league. Then again, the teams have split the past four meetings, including two thrillers last season. Why not expect the same this time, with both squads entering at 14-1 overall and 3-0 in the conference and among the national leaders in margin of victory?
West Virginia guard Daxter Miles, his string of 49 consecutive starts snapped, was back at practice and moving comfortably after a sprained ankle sidelined him for Saturday’s 77-60 victory over Oklahoma State.
“He looked like Dax,” teased coach Bob Huggins. “Shot it every time he came down.”
Miles the freshman shot just 1-of-5 and scored two points against Kansas in a 62-61 win here a year ago before scoring 23 in an overtime loss at Lawrence. This season, along with being a 12.1 points-per-game scorer, he’s the steals leader on a pressing team that easily leads the Big 12 in that category.
That persistent full-court harassment and deep rotation of interchangeable players helps mitigate the Jayhawks’ array of blue-chip recruits.
“Their starting five may be better than our starting five,” said WVU forward Jonathan Holton, “but our 12 is probably better than their 12.”
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Eastern in Morgantown (ESPN2)
RPIs: Kansas 3, West Virginia 26
Scouting the Jayhawks: Frank Mason (13.2. 5.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds) produced a double-double in the 69-59 win at Texas Tech after logging 53 minutes in the triple-overtime win over Oklahoma. As he steals thunder from Iowa State’s Monte Morris in debates over the league’s top point guard, at least one Mountaineer said Mason benefits from KU’s other threats. “It’s the situation he’s in,” said WVU’s Jaysean Paige. “He gets to play open-floor. They’ve got a good big man and good shooters so it spaces it out and gives him opportunity to do different things.”. … Last year’s backup to Mason, sophomore Devonte Graham (11.3 points, 3.3 assists) has joined the starting lineup allowing KU to play two point guards. That duo’s ballhandling will force WVU to modify its press. … Wayne Selden (15.9 points, 3.1 assists) is one of three Jayhawk regulars who shoot better than 50 percent on 3s. … Perry Ellis (16.6 points, 6.1 rebounds) will be playing his 121st game at KU, though it sure seems like he came in with Danny Manning.
WVU trends: Allowing opponents to shoot only 25.4 percent, the Mountaineers rank No. 2 nationally in 3-point defense. (Kansas ranks second in 3-point accuracy at 45.9 percent.) … Despite West Virginia committing 24.4 fouls per game—which ranks 344th out of 346 Division I teams—Bill Self says the emphasis on tighter officiating hasn’t led Huggins to back off the press. “They’re in attack mode all the time on both ends,” Self said. … Devin Williams (14.5 points, 8.6 rebounds) ranks second in the Big 12 with 95 free-throw attempts. His front-court colleague Jonathan Holton (9.7 boards, 7.3 rebounds) leads the league in offensive rebounding percentage. … Jevon Carter (12.7 points, 3.3 assists) and Paige (12.6 points) have been the team’s most reliable 3-point shooters, while reserve guard Tarik Phillip (7.7 points, 3.3 assists) has honed his 17-foot pull-up to penalize defenders worried about his driving.
Line: Kansas favored by 1
Prediction: Kansas 73-72