We’re only days away from one of #16 ranked West Virginia’s most important games of the season when they travel to Lawrence, Kansas to play the #3 ranked Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in the Big 12 Conference opener on Saturday, January 4th at 4:00PM on ESPN+.
Although Kansas will undoubtedly be favored at home, they certainly have not been as impressive as the Mountaineers to start the season. In fact, Kansas’ only notable win was a victory at home against the 20th ranked Dayton Flyers. Their two losses were a two point loss to #2 ranked Duke on a neutral court and a one point loss at 10th ranked Villanova. All of their wins are against very average, mediocre teams. In other words, there are a lot of unknowns about this Kansas team right now.
At 11-1 after beating the formerly ranked #2 team in the country (the Ohio State Buckeyes) on a neutral court, the West Virginia Mountaineers are no longer a question mark. If this team isn’t one of the best teams in the Big 12 Conference and make it deep into the NCAA Tournament, it would be a massive disappointment.
Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers are big and deep. Size and depth in college basketball are two of the most important factors to a team’s success. Coaching is also important and West Virginia has one of the best ever on their sideline.
Oscar Tshiebwe, Derek Culver, Logan Routt and Gabe Osabouhien give the Mountaineers some of the best interior depth of any team in the Big 12 and perhaps the entire country. Even with Tshiebwe and Culver in foul trouble for most of the game against Ohio State, the Mountaineers were able to control one of the best big men in the nation in the Buckeyes’ Kaleb Wesson. This is precisely why West Virginia will be able to sweep the home and away series with the Kansas Jayhawks this season.
Kansas, fresh off a one-point loss at #10 Villanova and a 16 point win at Stanford, relies far too much on their truly dominant big man Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike, a 7’0 Senior Center from Nigeria, is averaging 13.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting 79.8% from the field and 31.8% from the foul line. Kansas does not have a reliable backup to Azubuike and this is where the Mountaineers can really take advantage of the Jayhawks. Azubuike is averaging 2.4 fouls per game and getting him in early foul trouble will be key for West Virginia. Attacking Azubuike with Tshiebwe or Culver will likely be Huggins’ strategy early.
Azubuike has struggled to stay healthy for an entire season throughout his career, playing in only 11 games as a Freshman and 9 games as a Junior last year. Although currently healthy, his health is paramount to Kansas’ success this season. Kansas’ lack of depth is startling for a team who always recruits well. Sophomore Guard Devon Dotson, currently averaging 18.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, is playing out of this world, but outside of him and Azubuike, Kansas is really pretty average.
The Jayhawks have relied on Azubuike bullying smaller teams with his size so far this season, but he simply will not be able to do that against the Mountaineers. When West Virginia opens the Big 12 Conference schedule at the always intimidating Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, they will be the bigger, the stronger, the deeper and more talented team.
The Big 12 Conference Championship almost always goes through Kansas, and if that’s the case this year, the West Virginia Mountaineers are on their way to great things this season.