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Previewing the Kentucky/West Virginia Game Tonight

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Kentucky at West Virginia (-10) – 7:00 pm, ESPN

It’s a rather weak slate tonight so we’re just going to focus on the main game – Kentucky heading to Morgantown. West Virginia has lost 3 of its last 4 while Kentucky has lost 2 of its last 3. It’s not necessarily a must-win by either side, but a win here – especially for Kentucky – does a lot in terms of seeding come March.

You know what you’re going to get out of West Virginia here. They are going to apply that press, bump you, grab you and do everything possible to make you uncomfortable before you even inbound the ball. It’s why they rank 2nd in turnover percentage in the country and that’s the thing to watch. Kentucky turns the ball over a decent amount – ranking 231st in turnover rate. Now, the one ‘positive’ here is most of these turnovers tend to be deadball turnovers in the form of walks or offensive fouls. If you’re going to turn the ball over against West Virginia that’s the type of turnovers you need to have. If you let West Virginia create liveball turnovers they turn it into easy points and don’t have to worry about playing in the halfcourt.

One major thing to watch with Kentucky is how they use its rotations. For the last 7 minutes or so of the Mississippi State game, Calipari went to the rotation that he truthfully should be using more. He benched true bigs in Richards and Kileya-Jones in favor of going ‘positionless’ using Washington/Gabriel at the five spot. This should be how the rotation is used more commonly, with Richards and SKJ playing a few minutes just for a different look. The other thing with this rotation is it let Washington be in his more comfortable position when Kentucky ran its 2-3 zone to close the game. Washington is better playing in the middle of the back with length around him. At all times he had Vanderbilt/Knox/Gabriel/SGA on the wings. West Virginia likes to run the 5-out motion offense that Huggins made famous. Going 2-3 will keep protection at the rim when this happens and length to bother shooters. It’ll be interesting to see if Calipari is too stubborn to run this during the majority of time or not though.

Speaking of the 2-3 zone, expect Calipari to run that against West Virginia today. The Mountaineers are not a good 3-point shooting team, shooting just 33% as a team. If you can slowdown their primary and secondary breaks, you want to keep them out of driving space. Jevon Carter is excellent at breaking people down off the dribble, getting into the lane and either finishing there or kicking to an open shooter. In theory the 2-3 zone should slow down Carter’s ability to get into the lane and cause disruption.

I’m curious to see how Daxter Miles handles this game for the simple fact of him being a human with emotion. If you remember the last time these two teams played was in the Sweet 16 during Kentucky’s 38-1 season with Miles publicly saying that West Virginia was going to beat Kentucky. It resulted in a near 40-point loss and Miles wanting to avoid the media after the game. He’s now older and on the better team. Will he come out and let the game come to him? Will he try to make a point and force a couple of shots?

I think West Virginia controls most of this game leading by 8 the majority of the time, but think Kentucky stays within the number. If Kentucky can take care of the ball and not give easy points to West Virginia this will be a close game.