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Can the Kentucky Wildcats pull off an upset in Morgantown?

Breaking down the challenge ahead for Kentucky.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Kentucky
Kentucky needs Gilgeous-Alexander to hold onto the ball against West Virginia’s press.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky is facing a top 10 KenPom defense on Saturday in the West Virginia Mountaineers. Bob Huggins’ team also forces turnovers on 23 percent of their opponents’ possessions, which is 2nd in the country.

Can the Cats limit turnovers and score enough to come out of Morgantown with a victory?

Recent history suggests the Cats have a strong chance.

The Wildcats have fared well against elite defensive teams with subpar offenses in the John Calipari era. Since the 2009-10 season, UK is 16-4 against opponents with a top 10 KenPom defense, but an offensive efficiency ranking that fell outside of KenPom’s top 25.

Most recently, the Wildcats scored 1.22 points per possession (PPP) last season against a stingy South Carolina defense that finished the year in KenPom’s top 10.

Calipari’s teams have scored efficiently on elite defenses in recent history, potentially adding two teams to the list in 2017-18 in Texas A&M and WVU (chart reflects teams in top 10 of KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency, but outside of the top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency).

Kentucky already defeated Texas A&M earlier this season, an opponent with similar defensive efficiency numbers as the Mountaineers. The Aggies have a subpar offense (107th in adjusted offensive efficiency), but are tied with West Virginia with a 90.7 adjusted defensive efficiency mark (good for 7th in the country). The Cats managed 1.12 points per possession in a win over the Aggies just two weeks ago.

However, Texas A&M doesn’t create turnovers like the Mountaineers, a statistical category where Kentucky struggles. This season, the Wildcats are turning the ball over on 16.8 percent of possessions (statistics courtesy of

In conference play, that number jumps to over 20 percent in the first ten seconds of the shot clock. West Virginia is likely to push the pace, forcing the Wildcats into a quick and potentially sloppy style.

The Wildcats are a little extra sloppy in early offense.

Calipari’s past Kentucky teams have dominated elite defensive teams with middling offensive units, but the 2017-18 version of the Wildcats could be a different story. For starters, the Wildcats score just over 1.0 PPP on the road on the season, and Morgantown will not be a friendly environment. Over the last three games, Kentucky is scoring just 0.94 points per possession. The Cats will need more than that on Saturday.

This has been a negative week in Lexington. The Wildcats dropped two straight in conference play before getting back in the win column by pulling ahead against Mississippi State. Calipari lost high school phenom Zion Williamson to Duke.

Kentucky dropped out of the AP top 25 poll for the first time since 2014. But don’t count John Calipari out just yet. Kentucky’s successes against elite defenses in the Calipari era provide a glimmer of hope that the Wildcats could pull off an upset in Morgantown.

Saturday represents an ideal time to turn around these negative trends.