Kentucky avenged earlier losses to Ole Miss and Alabama in the SEC Tournament. Now they get to avenge their loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight a year ago that prevented a team with five NBA First Round Draft Picks from advancing to the Final Four.
To do so, they will have to play much better than they did on Thursday afternoon against Princeton.
The Mountaineers lost in the Big East tournament second round to Marquette, but they closed the regular season playing their best basketball, winning three in a row. Clearly, with playing a Big East schedule, the WVU schedule is one of the toughest in the nation, ranking fourth in the land entering conference tourney play.
Bob Huggins, who is in his fourth season coaching his alma mater, is the first West Virginia coach to win 20 games in each of his first four seasons. He has 101 victories with the Moutaineers and is the fastest ever coach in WVU history to reach 100 wins. He has 25 20-victory seasons in a 29-year career.
Offensively they are led by Casey Mitchell. Mitchell is the Moutaineers’ leading scorer at 14.1 points per scrap. The 2009 National Junior College Player of the Year is shooting 42.6 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from 3-point range and 86.6 percent from the charity stripe. He leads the ‘Neers with 65 made threes on the year. Earlier this season Mitchell set a Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament record for most points scored with 70 in three games. While he is an excellent outside shot, Mitchell can also create his own and take it to the bucket.
Kevin Jones is West Virginia’s second leading scorer (13.1) and leading rebounder (7.4). The 6’ 8″, 260lb senior forward is an outstanding offensive AND defensive player. When Jones gets the ball in his hands, he usually finds a way to score. He is not only a good rebounder, but specifically a great offensive rebounder, pulling down 3.2 offensive boards a game. He has knocked down 27 threes on the year, but is shooting under 30-percent.
Earlier this season he became the 47th West Virginian to reach the 1,000 point plateau and he was one of six conference players, and the only non-guard named to the preseason all-BIG EAST first team. He can score it both inside and out, is a strong rebounder and defends both the perimeter and the post as well as anyone on the team.
He closed the season with three straight double-doubles, scoring 52 points with 37 rebounds in those three games. He had eight double-doubles through March 6, tied for second in the Big East.
The key is going to be getting to 70 and to do so the Cats will have to get out in transition and have success from deep. Last year Kentucky struggled from the perimeter. With Brandon Knight, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb, this Kentucky squad is the best three-point shooting team in the SEC.
If the Wildcats score 70, they win. If not, it will be another barnburner.
I think the Cats got that bad game out of their system and will play as they did in the SEC Tournament against the Mountaineers. It’s on to the Sweet 16.
Kentucky 72, West Virginia 63