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Las Vegas Invitational: Championship game -- Kentucky vs. West Virginia

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This is the official A Sea of Blue Open Game Thread for the West Virginia Mountaineers versus the Kentucky Wildcats at 10:30 EST tonight.

Here in Sin City, there is a quiet but hopeful feeling about tonight's game between the Kentucky Wildcats and Bob Huggins' West Virgina Mountaineers. West Virginia looked very good in their dismantling of Iowa yesterday, and the most troubling thing for the Kentucky Wildcats is the fact that they play an in-your-face pressure defense that, believe it or not, is far superior to what we saw last night from Kansas State. West Virginia is currently undefeated and has the 12th most highly ranked defense in the entire nation points-wise, holding opponents to a mere 53 points/game. Compare that to Kentucky's 241st ranking surrendering 72 ppg.

Kentucky and West Virginia have one common opponent, Longwood University. The Mountaineers beat LU 86-54 and UK beat them 91-57, so the margin of victory is similar. Kentucky and West Virgina are very similar teams, for that matter, in a variety of ways.

The 'Eers get their points from Alex Ruoff, a dangerous 6'6" shooting guard who can put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the court, and Da'Sean Butler, a 6'7" swing forward who plays with great intensity. But the unsung star of yesterday's game against the Hawkeyes was John Flowers, a skilled, 6'7" small foward who can handle the ball and makes really good decisions with it. He can shoot, but rarely takes a bad shot and shoots a very high percentage. Wellington Smith and Devin Ebanks round out the front court for the Mountaineers. Smith is a 6'7" junior power forward, and Devin Ebanks is an extremely skilled 6'9" 5* small forward who originally committed to Indiana University before the coaching change, then changed his mind and relocated to Morgantown.

This game will be very difficult for the Wildcats, as my impression of the two teams after having seen both play is that West Virginia is further along at this point than Kentucky is. West Virginia is just as athletic as Kentucky, although UK can throw quite a bit more beef on the front line if they choose. But the thing that really stood out is the really excellent and disciplined defense that the Mountaineers played against the Hawkeys. They are no slouch on offense, either, and if UK thinks that the K-State 'Cats screened them, they are really in for some bumps and bruises tonight, as Huggins' group really sets hard picks, and sets them everywhere.

For Kentucky to win this game, they must:

  1. Find a way to decrease their turnovers. There is no way Kentucky can beat WVU with 30 turnovers. In fact, they'll get blown out no matter how well they shoot if that's the best the 'Cats can muster.
  2. Find a way to get more players on the floor. Huggins is not afraid to play his young guys, and they are all pretty good.
  3. Get more shots for Patrick Patterson. Meeks is a great player, but he turns the ball over way to much. Meeks must touch the ball a bit less and Patterson a lot more.
  4. Perry Stevenson must show up. I'm tired of playing "Where's Perry?" He is a junior, and we need a lot more out of him than we have received in the last two games.
  5. Pressure WVU. Pressure teams like West Virginia often hate to be pressed, and I don't think WVU has been pressured this year.
  6. Rebound. West Virginia is currently the third best rebounding team in the NCAA.

With the DeAndre Liggins drama still up in the air, and the 'Cats exhausted from a very late night and an intense effort by a game K-State team, this is a very tough spot for Kentucky, quite frankly. The Wildcats have the talent and the skill to beat the Mountaineers, but WVU had an easy game yesterday and Kentucky a tough one. Bob Huggins has this team playing very, very well, and it's not hard to visualize Kentucky winding up on the short end of this one. I have seen both teams play, and believe me, West Virginia is definitely capable of handling the Wildcats in their current state.

But they don't play the game on paper, and even if they did, this would be a toss-up. A win here and UK will certainly have turned a corner. A loss is not the end of the world, though, especially in the current state of flux this team suddenly finds itself in and the difficulty in recovering from last night's efforts. But if Kentucky can get the ball to Patterson with regularity, take care of the ball and hit the glass, they just might get this job done.

Go, 'Cats!