Kentucky’s march toward a historic 40-0 season continues Thursday night, as the No. 1 Wildcats (36-0) face No. 5 West Virginia (25-9) in the Sweet 16.
West Virginia has become a trendy upset pick this week – in fact, freshman guard Daxter Miles Jr. has guaranteed the win – but do the Mountaineers truly have what it takes to topple the Cats? Will their vaunted press be enough to fluster Kentucky into enough mistakes to actually turn the tide?
After all, Kentucky has handled everything thrown its way this season.
“Kentucky has,” former Michigan and Arizona State head coach and current Westwood One analyst Bill Frieder said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “Kentucky has just got so much length, so much size, so much talent, so many future pros that I just think they’re going to somehow get the job done.”
The Mountaineers beat Buffalo and Maryland to advance to the Sweet 16. They forced 23 turnovers against the Terps and had four starters finish in double figures, including forward Devin Williams, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
But Kentucky – with potentially 10 first-round NBA draft picks – is a different animal.
“As good as West Virginia might play and all the accolades (they’ve gotten), Kentucky is only allowing 53 points per game and West Virginia has trouble scoring,” Frieder said. “Kentucky is only allowing 27 percent from three. They get seven blocks per game. They’ve won 11 of their last 12 (by) double digits. So they’re going to be tough to beat.
“But if anybody can do it, it can be Huggins and the way they play,” Frieder continued. “They have over 500 more shot attempts than their opponent. They average 17 offensive rebounds per game, they force 20 turnovers a game, they forced 23 turnovers (against) Maryland the other night for 26 points, and they average 11 steals per game. So if they do all that, it might be enough to keep them in the game. I think West Virginia will make a great account of themselves, but I think in the end, Kentucky will be too much for them.”
Scott Ferrall agrees. He doesn’t see West Virginia getting anywhere close to 20 turnovers against Kentucky. Maybe 12, if all goes according to play. But not 20.
Kentucky just has too many weapons.
“When I had my good teams at Michigan, we loved teams that pressed us because we were talented enough to handle the press, and we got a lot of easy baskets and dunks,” Frieder said. “I think Kentucky – they can go small with the guards. They can put three or four pro guards out there. They can go big and go over the press. I think Kentucky will come with different looks against the press and find a way to solve it and get themselves a lot of easy baskets. I don’t see Kentucky turning it over like Maryland did.”
Tip-off is slated for 9:45 p.m. ET.