For the second year in a row, the Kentucky Wildcats face the West Virginia Mountaineers face off against the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA tournament. Last year, the two met in the Regional Final for the opportunity to go to Indianapolis. This time, they meet much earlier in the second round for the opportunity to play again next weekend.
The two teams compare thus:
Kentucky has a stronger RPI than West Virginia, but the Mountaineers have faced tougher competition. Both teams have similar records against the top 25 and against the RPI top 50.
Believe it or not, Kentucky has been the better defensive team over the entire season, as well as the better offensive team. Last year, West Virginia was a better defensive and offensive team than they are this year, so this team is not as good as the one that took down John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins & Co. last year in the elite eight. But they are plenty good enough to beat the 2011 version of the Wildcats.
West Virginia Mountaineers Basketball Roster
|Darryl Bryant||25||G||Starter, 3rd leading scorer, 2nd leading assist
|Craig Carey||15||G||Walk on||160||6-2||sophomore|
|Jake Ferguson||20||F||Rarely plays||190||6-6||freshman|
|John Flowers||41||F||Starter, 2nd leading rebounder, 2.3 blocks, foul prone
|Danny Jennings||30||F||No longer with team||260||6-8||sophomore|
|Kevin Jones||5||F||Starter, second leading scorer, leading rebounder, best OR
|Deniz Kilicli||13||F||Major reserve||270||6-9||sophomore|
|Joe Mazzulla||21||G||Starter, leading assists
|Casey Mitchell||3||G||Major reserve, leading scorer, 3pt specialist
|Kevin Noreen||34||F||Out for season with knee injury||235||6-10||freshman|
|Dalton Pepper||32||G||Major reserve||230||6-5||sophomore|
|Kenny Ross||12||G||Rarely plays||175||6-0||freshman|
|Cam Thoroughman||2||F||Starter, foul prone
Everybody remembers Jones and Mazzulla from last year, and should remember Flowers as well. West Virginia really does not have much 3-point shooting, but they do have a lot of good athletes and streaky shooters who can get hot from anywhere at any time. Darryl "Truck" Bryant has shot the ball well from the perimeter a few times and has a tendency to make timely shots. Casey Mitchell is their go-to long-range bomber.
Four Factors Analysis
Kentucky is a better shooting and ballhandling team. The Mountaineers are a better offensive rebounding and free throw rate team. Overall, these teams are closely matched, but UK owns the advantage in the two most important stats.
West Virginia: Kevin Noreen has been out since January with a knee injury
Kentucky: Terrence Jones has a virus. Doron Lamb's ankle is not 100%
- Brandon Knight vs. Joe Mazzulla: This is a matchup you would think Knight would win, but Mazzulla is a crafty, mature player who does not make mistakes. Advantage: Push
- Doron Lamb vs. Truck Bryant: This is closer than you think, but Lamb is a better shooter and his defense has really improved. Advantage: Kentucky
- Darius Miller vs. John Flowers: These two players have very different games, but are very similar in the impact they make on their opponents. Both can shoot from the perimeter and both can guard. Flowers is the better rebounder and Miller is the better shooter. Advantage: Push
- Kevin Jones vs. Terrence Jones: This is the matchup that could decide the game. If Terrence plays like a freshman, Kevin could ruin the Wildcats' tournament. Advantage: Push.
- Josh Harrellson vs. Cam Thoroughman: Harrellson is bigger, stronger, and better. Advantage: Kentucky.
- Bench: West Virgina is deeper than Kentucky. Advantage: West Virginia.
This is a tough-minded West Virginia team that has no idea what the word "quit" means. West Virginia will hustle and play as hard as any team Kentucky has ever faced. This team wins by effort, not by skill. That is not meant to disparage their skill, but to emphasize their effort.
We know that Huggins will throw the 1-3-1 zone at the Cats, and Calipari will most likely have them prepared for that defense this year. The greater shooting skill of this year's team will force West Virginia to beat Kentucky by some other mechanism than daring them to shoot and hoping they will miss, like they did last year. But once again, the Wildcats will face a team and a coach that utilize toughness as their calling card.
It is very important for Kentucky not just to make three point shots, but to get much better looks than last year's team did. The 'Cats can do that, but the only way they can succeed is to move and share the ball with each other and make the good looks they get count.
For West Virginia, they cannot be content to hope Kentucky loses, or isn't shooting well. The Wildcats are a better shooting team than the Mountaineers, particularly from the perimeter, and West Virginia must score enough points to actually win the game, which can sometimes be a challenge for them.
The physicality and toughness of this young Wildcat team will be carefully examined by Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers tomorrow. Kentucky must respond as they did late in this season, rather than return to the mid-season form that saw them drop six of eight on the road in the SEC. Offensive rebounding will particularly matter tomorrow, as WVU uses their toughness to out-rebound opponents on the offensive glass and extend possessions. Kentucky cannot afford to spot the Mountaineers too many percentage points in this crucial area.
This will be be a bigger test than the Princeton Tigers, and if the 'Cats want to keep dancing, they will need to rise and meet the challenge. Go, 'Cats!