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Sweet 16 Game Preview and Predictions: West Virginia vs. Kentucky

Author:
Bob Huggins

Bob Huggins

Sooner or later, the debate of Kentucky’s greatest team will become a major topic. If this year’s team goes 40-0, the debate might not last long.

There’s also the 1995-96 Untouchables or 2012 national championship team or the first title team in 1948.

One team that might get shortchanged is 2010, a team that featured NBA All-Stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, plus pros Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson.

That team was done in by guys named Da’Sean Butler and Joe Mazzulla in the Elite Eight.

The sense of history isn’t lost on Kentucky, especially given the familiarity between John Calipari and Bob Huggins. The two have faced each other 10 times, most of those coming when Calipari was at UMass and Memphis and Huggins was at Cincinnati. Huggins holds an 8-2 edge in the series.

Kentucky already avenged that 2010 loss with a meeting in the 2011 round of 32 when No. 4 seed Kentucky defeated No. 5 seed West Virginia on the way to the Final Four.

But given the stakes and the situation — another Kentucky team aiming for history against this pressing, pesky West Virginia squad — seems to bring up old memories.

Other Sweet 16 Previews

Wichita State vs. Notre Dame

Xavier vs. Arizona

North Carolina vs. Wisconsin

No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Kentucky

Region: Midwest (Cleveland)

Time: Thursday, Approx. 9:45 p.m., ET

TV: CBS

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Announcers: Marv Albert, Chris Webber and Len Elmore

Line: Kentucky by 13 1/2

Matchup to Watch: Kentucky vs. West Virginia’s press

Coaches can be stubborn, but not apparently Bob Huggins. The Hall of Famer scrapped his old plans and installed a relentless fullcourt press. The result has been a Sweet 16 team that leads the nation in turnover rate and steal rate by comfortable margins. Kentucky has faced a pressing team in Arkansas twice this season, plus Louisville, and won with little difficulty. No one does the press quite like West Virginia. The question is if it matters.

Tournament Surprise: Kentucky’s 3-point shooting

Kentucky wasn’t a great 3-point shooting team during the season, and the Wildcats don’t necessarily need to be one even at this stage of the Tournament. Still, the Wildcats are 7-of-25 (28 percent) from 3-point range in the last two games after shooting 34.7 percent during the season.

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West Virginia will win if...

The Wildcats are completely befuddled by the press and irritated by another physical opponent. But as Calipari said, many teams have tried many ways to beat Kentucky, and none of them have worked yet.

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Kentucky will win if...

The Wildcats get into their offense with minimal trouble. West Virginia is a bit of a one-trick pony. The Mountaineers rank 303rd in effective field goal defense (52.7 percent) and they foul a lot. Kentucky ranks 74th in free throw shooting (72.2),

Predictions:

David Fox: Kentucky 68-54

Braden Gall: Kentucky 71-60

Mitch Light: Kentucky 73-51

Jake Rose: Kentucky 72-60