The Wildcats have arrived at the inflection point for this year's campaign. The Elite Eight is the destination I would have predicted early in the season as the most likely spot for this Kentucky Wildcats team to wind up it's season, but in the NCAA Tournament, we have seen that this team has grown beyond our wildest expectations to become the outright tournament favorite. But the West Virginia Mountaineers intend to challenge UK for the East Regional championship, and they are arguably the most capable team left in the tournament to upset Kentucky.
Today, there are no underdogs, no self-writing stories about Davids or Goliaths, no media cheering for one team or the other, no human interest stories. Today, there is only basketball -- as it should be.
As always a quick comparison:
|Rank and Records||WVU||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#4||#38|
|RPI Top 50||14-5||11-1|
|Cleveland State||W,80-78||W, 73-49|
|Long Beach St.||W, 85-62||W, 86-73|
|Mississippi||W, 76-66||W, 85-75|
|Louisville||W, 77-74||W, 71-62|
|Connecticut||L, 62-73||W, 64-61|
More after the jump.
How They Got Here
West Virginia got here by claiming the Big East Tournament title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia was seeded #2 in the East, which many saw as an underseed, since most pundits figured the Mountaineers deserved a #1 seed.
We will not have our usual dashboard available today, so we will substitute the Four Factors comparison from Statsheet.com
Four Factors Analysis
Hey everybody, Ken here. This is going to be a short and sweet analysis.
We can see from the start that Kentucky is a better shooting team. The 'Cats will primarily be facing an unusually effective 1-3-1 Mountaineer zone defense tonight, though, which may adversely affect UK's shooting. At times this year Kentucky has struggled adjusting to changing or seldom-seen defenses, but they have made progress, especially in the NCAA Tournament, where they have been faced with multiple looks in both games.
Kentucky's slight disadvantage in turnover percentage might be negated by the fact that WVU has lost their starting point (Darryl Bryant) earlier in the tournament, and it showed in WVU's 23 turnovers in their win versus Washington in the second round. Casey Mitchell has taken over the point duties, with an assist from Joe Mazzulla. Da'Sean Butler, though, leads the 'Neers in assists on the year, averaging 3.2 per game.
West Virginia Mountaineers Basketball Roster
|Darryl Bryant||25||G||Normal starter, injured -- broken foot||200||6-2||sophomore|
|Da`Sean Butler||1||F||Starter, leading scorer, leading asst., 3-pt. threat||225||6-7||senior|
|Devin Ebanks||3||F||Starter, 3rd leading scorer, leading rebounder||210||6-9||sophomore|
|John Flowers||41||F||Major reserve, energy guy||215||6-7||junior|
|Kevin Jones||5||F||Starter, 2nd leading scorer, 2nd leading rebounder, 3-pt. threat||245||6-8||sophomore|
|Joe Mazzulla||21||G||Reserve, will get most of Bryant's minutes||200||6-2||junior|
|Casey Mitchell||-||G||Starter - role player replacing Bryant. Can shoot 3, but not high pct.||220||6-4||junior|
|Wellington Smith||35||F||Starter, significant contributor, 3-pt. threat||245||6-7||senior|
Mountaineer Player Stats
We all know what Kentucky will try to do tonight both offensively and defensively in tonight's contest: Get the ball inside to DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, and Daniel Orton. With WVU challenging UK's interior motives with 6-9 Kevin Jones, (one-time UK target) 6-9 Devin Ebanks, and 6-7 Wellington Smith, the 'Cats hold a considerable size advantage. Huggins' hope is his changing multiple zone looks will disrupt UK's ability to get the ball to the low post.
WVU, not unlike Cornell, sports several potentially dangerous three-point shooters in the terrific Da'Sean Butler (35.1% threes), Kevin Jones (40.0%), and Wellington Smith (35.7%). So once again, guarding the perimeter will be of premium importance to UK's chances of pulling out a victory.
WVU's Butler will be a real challenge for the 'Cats to defend. He is capable of nailing the outside and mid-range shots, or slashing to the basket. And he has the hops to play above the rim. I expect UK's Darius Miller to once again draw the assignment of stopping the opponents best player. Miller will ball deny, and attempt to disrupt Butler's all-important rhythm, as he did to Cornell's Ryan Wittman.
This game is what UK coach John Calipari has been pointing to all season. The opportunity to get to the Final Four, the opportunity to finally cut the nets down ... it all hinges on this one game.
My bet is the 'Cats will be focused and intent on their season-long goal, which means bad news for West Virginia.