West Virginia and Kentucky Meet in the Big XII/SEC Challenge
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Tip-Off: 7:00 pm est
Location: Morgantown WV The Coliseum
The #7 West Virginia Mountaineers (16-4) take on the Kentucky Wildcats (15-5) in the Big XII/SEC Challenge this Saturday inside the Coliseum.
Kentucky leads the all-time series versus the Mountaineers 5-15 and have won the last two meetings in the NCAA Tournament. The last time West Virginia beat Kentucky was in the Elite Eight in Syracuse, New York for a trip to the Final Four, 73-66.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari is in his 9th year in Lexington. In his career, he is 667-197 and during his tenure with the Wildcats 264-59.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins has had a lot of success against Calipari over the years. Huggins has an 8-3 advantage over coach Cal, but while at their current schools, Calipari is 2-1.
The Wildcats are not having the success this season they are accustomed too. They are currently sitting outside the top 25 for the first time since 2014 and have yet to beat a ranked team this year. Kentucky is 0-2 versus ranked opponents this season, with losses to Kansas at a neutral site and in Knoxville to Tennessee.
Freshman forward Kevin Knox (6’9” 215-lbs) is averaging 16.2 points over the last five games. Calipari has been waiting for him to become the go to guy and he’s slowly starting to take on that role. He settles for jump shots, but he’s more affective when he is aggressive.
Freshman guard Hamidou Diallo (6’5” 198-lbs) has taken on the leadership role for the Wildcats, being the only redshirt freshman under Calipari during his time at Kentucky. He led the team in scoring at the beginning of the year but has struggled in conference play, only scoring in double figures three times in eight games and only averaging 6.3 points in the last three games.
Freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (6’6” 180-lbs) is the point guard for the Wildcats. He leads the team with 4.4 assists per game. He is aggressive towards the basket and can find the open man for the easy score. He is averaging 12.3 points per game and is their best three-point shooter (42.3%).
Freshman forward PJ Washington (6’7” 236-lbs) is coming off a season high 22 points against Mississippi State on Tuesday night. He brings toughness to the team. Aggressive around the rim, using his athleticism and strength to finish.
Freshman forward Nick Richards (6’11” 240-lbs) is Kentucky’s rim protector. He’s averaging 1.3 blocks per game, it’s not overwhelming, but he affects a lot of shots with his length. Richards is only averaging 6.8 points per game on the year but is efficient when he gets the ball in his hands. Most of his offense comes from rebounds.
Coming off the bench:
Freshman guard Quade Green (6’0” 180-lbs) is just coming off a back injury and this will be his third game back. He was averaging 10.7 points per game before the injury, but in the last two games, he only has 6 points in 37 minutes.
Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel (6’9” 205-lbs) can provide a lot of energy coming off the bench. He can be an offensive, rebounding or defensive spark for the Wildcats, but the team is 1-3 when he scores in double figures.
Sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (6’10” 221-lbs) provides valuable minutes coming off the bench. He’s not a threat offensively, but he is a great rebounder and defender.
Freshman Forward Jarred Vanderbilt (6’9” 214-lbs) is coming off a foot injury he suffered in September. This will be his fourth game back since his injury. Calipari has been bringing him along slowly, but this kid can make plays. He played 14 minutes and scored 6 points in their loss to South Carolina in his first game back and went for 1-7 from the field against Mississippi State Tuesday night.
Kentucky is young, but they are extremely athletic. They run a lot of isolation plays, that plays well with their talent. A lot of their offense is off screens. They have had consistency issues on offensively, but when they are on, they are tough to stop.
Defensively for the Wildcats, they will play man to man. I expect Calipari to play 2-3 zone and force West Virginia to hit jump shots. If the Mountaineers hit their shots, they will go back to man.
The Wildcats are long and athletic. The Mountaineers will have to move the ball on offense and get into position to get easy baskets.
West Virginia forward Sagaba Konate will have another tough challenge this weekend. Although he has risen to challenges recently, this one is going to be a lot different. Instead of one guy he will have to worry about, he will have the whole Kentucky team crashing the boards.
Mountaineer forwards Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, Wesley Harris and Teddy Allen will have to play tough in the paint to help Sags out.
Veteran guards Daxter Miles Jr and Jevon Carter cannot allow the Kentucky guards to dictate the game, especially on the offensive end of the floor.
Kentucky has had some turnover issues at certain times of the season, and West Virginia needs to apply the pressure for the entire game. They need to make them feel uncomfortable and make them force their shots late in the shot clock.
Despite losing the last three out of four games, I believe West Virginia comes away with a big win. The press will be effective, they’ll crash the boards and will hit their open shots.
I expect Kentucky native Beetle Bolden to have a big game and help lead the Mountaineers in a win.
West Virginia feeds off the energy from the crowd and wins 84-73.