There are few venues in college basketball that bring with it the mystique of Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, and the venue has certainly lived up to the hype in West Virginia’s trips there.
Despite some close calls, the Mountaineers are 0-9 at Kansas since joining the Big 12 Conference ahead of the 2012-2013 season, and WVU is far from alone in its struggles at The Phog.
Bill Self is in his 19th season at the helm, and the Jayhawks’ success at home in that span borders on the ridiculous. Kansas is 295-18 under Self in Lawrence, a win percentage of 94.2%. That includes five seasons in which the Jayhawks were undefeated at Allen Fieldhouse and only three seasons in which Kansas lost more than one game. The Jayhawks are working on a similar mark again this season as they’ve started 8-0 on their home court.
In addition to taking on an experienced, talent-laden team, the Mountaineers (13-2 overall, 2-1 Big 12) will attempt to reverse all of that history as they meet up with the No. 9 Jayhawks (13-2, 2-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game will air on CBS.
“What sets the building apart is 17,000 people, and it’s 17,000 people no matter who they play,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “It’s an older, unique building. You don’t get to play in places like that very often. There’s not a lot of buildings like that that are as preserved as what Allen Fieldhouse is.
“We’ve had our chances. We’ve played pretty well there at times, and then things have a way of happening.”
Actually, Allen Fieldhouse has a capacity of 16,300. But more than the fans and the arena is the fact that the Jayhawks have just been good. Really good.
Kansas has won or had a share of 15 regular-season league titles in those 19 seasons under Self, and that talent level is every bit as apparent this season.
It starts with senior guard Ochai Agbaji, who has overtaken WVU’s Taz Sherman as the Big 12’s leading scorer at 20.6 points per game.
Agbaji is one of the deadliest outside shooters in the league, ranking first in 3-pointers made (47) and 3-point percentage (47.5%), yet Huggins said the most impressive thing about Agbaji are the strides he’s made elsewhere.
“I think he’s probably using his athleticism probably a little bit more,” Huggins said. “He’s a heck of an athlete. I think he’s got a little more versatility. I think he kind of was behind the [3-point] line more than what he is now. He’s a great guy at attacking the rim and he’s a big-time shot maker.”
Junior Christian Braun helps complete a tandem of which Huggins called “probably two of the best perimeter guys in the country.” Braun is averaging 16.1 points and leads the Jayhawks in assists with 47. Agbaji and Braun have combined to cash in on 75 out of 96 free-throw attempts (78.1%).
Underneath, senior David McCormack is in his fourth season and will play in his 108th game on Saturday. The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder is averaging 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds and has blocked 17 shots this season.
“He’s a force,” Huggins said. “He’s probably the best rim protector in our league. I think his offense has gotten better and better the longer he’s been there. He’s a really talented guy. He’s a guy who will play for a long time.”
While Kansas is loaded with playmakers, its roster is running a bit thin. Freshman post player Zach Clemence is expected to miss the game and several more as he deals with a toe injury. Senior guard Remy Martin’s status is also up in the air after missing the team’s game against Iowa State on Tuesday with a right knee injury.
Huggins said his team should be ready for anybody that’s seen the floor for Kansas this season, and whoever that ends up being, the challenge will be great.
“They’ve watched film on everybody who’s gotten in the game,” Huggins said. “If it’s a surprise to them, they fell asleep during film.
“They’re good. They make shots, they penetrate and defensively they’re pretty good.”