SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
This is about as talented as a line-up with three freshmen can be. Guards Doran Lamb (6-4, 195 lbs.) and Brandon Knight (6-3, 185 lbs.) run the floor, shoot it well and have exceptional length and athleticism. They hit for 12 and 17 points per game, respectively, and both are about 80 percent from the line. Knight makes good decisions, but isn’t close to a two-to-one ratio for assists against turnovers. He likes to drive and finish or kick and won’t hesitate to take the outside shot. He could get some open ones as well because of his height edge over WVU’s guards. Lamb, a onetime target of Bob Huggins, was among the top rated players coming out of high school last year. Like Knight, his size is very good and he has shown an amazing shooting ability for a first-year player at 47 percent from three-point range. West Virginia must get back on defense and limit transition baskets. It also must guard the pair well out, which will create added spacing for UK to pass. This is a tough match-up, but not any more difficult than Kemba Walker.
Third guard Darius Miller (6-7, 228 lbs.), essentially a swingman, averages 11 points and four rebounds and also has good touch from anywhere on the floor. Surprisingly, about half of his shots have come from outside the arc, but he’ll pressure the rim and get to the line (85.7 percent). This is the last player West Virginia wants to foul. Miller is also a very good rebounder, and his four a game is a bit misleading because of the surrounding cast’s numbers. Forward Josh Harrellson (6-10, 275 lbs.), the lone senior starter, is shooting 60 percent. It’s all inside, close looks, and one would think he would get to the line more than he does with 40 free throws all season. He averages seven points and a team-high 8.8 boards. This is an enormous player, a true space eater in the paint who will challenge Kevin Jones on both ends. He’s not the best defender on the squad, but his mere physical presence alters shots.
Terrence Jones (6-8, 244 lbs.), another freshman, plays the second-most minutes behind Knight. The forward is good for 16 points and 8.7 rebounds a game on average. He’s shooting 44 percent overall, and will take threes but it’s not his forte. He relentlessly attacks the rim and has shot a team-best 229 free throws (66 percent). He is Kentucky’s best defensive rebounder, and his putback skills on the other end are solid. The coaching staff seems to trust this player, and the lefthander has been a very good fit in the dribble-drive offense.
|Sat. March 19
12:15 p.m. EST
St. Pete Times Forum
WVU 21-11, 5-seed
UK 26-8, 4-seed
WVU – 21
UK - 7
Calipari’s bench is very thin this season, with Kentucky normally playing seven and, in rare cases, eight players. The best is starter-turned-sixth man DeAndre Liggins (6-6, 210 lbs.) The junior has a more polished offensive game than a year ago and is hitting almost 43 percent of his shots, including 40 percent from three, in averaging eight points a game. His size is an immediate issue for opposing guards, as is his ability to put it on the floor and attack the bucket. Liggins gets about four rebounds a game, mostly on the defensive end – and it’s there that he might at his best. He leads the team in steals with 41 and has the quickness, length and athleticism to contain smaller players. Forward Eloy Vargas (6-11, 250 lbs.) plays eight minutes a game and is a decent close-range shooter. He won’t step far away from the bucket, though, and he doesn’t rebound as well as his size would indicate (two per game). He also at times brings the ball down to an opponents level, and turns the ball over. He adds at least a hint of frontcourt depth though, and Calipari needs him simply for foul issues at times. Guard Jon Hood (6-7, 202 lbs.) plays about five minutes and is a poor shooter at 24 percent, 16 from three. He likely will not see action against the Mountaineers.
These aren’t last year’s Wildcats. Kentucky shoots much more effectively this season, with the top seven players making at least 43 percent from three-point range. UK is long and athletic, runs well and likes to create the transition game. But Calipari doesn’t have the raw power or talent of the Elite Eight squad from last season, and he lacks much, if any, depth. This group is young in spots and veteran at others, and it appears a bit more mature on the floor than did the freshman-led team of last season.
Problem is, WVU isn’t the team it was last season, either. There’s no Devin Ebanks for length and exceptional defense in the 1-3-1. There’s no Da’Sean Butler for clutch shots and finishing abilities. And it appears the match-ups are a bit worse for West Virginia as well. It can’t pack it in and force the three, because UK makes them. The Mountaineers must do what got them here: tough, continuous, rugged man defense. They must rebound, and get a body on the bigger Wildcats. They have to slow transition and get back quickly. And on offense, they must be efficient. Good, quality shots. And hope those shots go down. There’s no secret here. As 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks said: Play your game. Play your game.
WVU: F Kevin Noreen (Knee), Out for Season.
UK: Enes Canter (“Permanently Ineligible” via NCAA) – Out for Season.
West Virginia is making its 24th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Mountaineers reached at least the Sweet 16 in five of its last six NCAA Tournaments. This is the program’s fifth straight sixth appearance in seven seasons – ranking second for consecutive berths in team history (1955-60, six straight).
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West Virginia has won 61 of its last 72 non-Big East games and eight of its last 10 games played in Florida. The Mountaineers have won 12 of their last 13 games in March. They are 5-5 on March 19.
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Truck Bryant has more than 1,000 points for his career. John Flowers, Cam Thoroughman and Jonnie West became the first players in school history to play in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments in WVU’s win over Clemson. If they play against Kentucky, they will tie Darris Nichols for most NCAA Tournament games played in school history with 10. Nichols is a graduate assistant at West Virginia.
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WVU has won 21 of its last 26 and 10 of its last 11 games televised by CBS – including a win over Kentucky – and Ohio State, who West Virginia would likely play if it wins.
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Kentucky is the 11th ranked team the Mountaineers will play this season. WVU is 5-5 in games against ranked teams.
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West Virginia is 83-12 under Bob Huggins when outrebounding foes. Huggins is 8-1 all-time against UK head coach John Calipari.