Talkin’ Basketball: Kentucky vs. West Virginia

Once again, Tim was right and John was wrong in picking the early game. Well, they’re back for tonight’s game–John S to see if he can finally get one right, and Tim to tell you who will win. They are both trying to get over the fact that Dick Enberg is likely calling the last game of a great career tonight.

JOHN S: Alright, it’s time to move on to tonight’s game, the marquee matchup between Kentucky and West Virginia. The only Elite Eight game between the 1- and 2-seeds, this is probably the most anticipated game of this round; whoever wins this one will likely be the favorite going into the Final Four. It will also be by far the toughest contest either team has faced. Kentucky is coming off a 17-point win over everyone’s favorite Cinderella, and even though the score doesn’t really tell how close this one was (Cornell was within six with under six minutes left), it never really felt like the Wildcats were in danger, even when the Big Red were up 10-2. Throughout this Tournament, Kentucky has shown how much margin for error they have, and how much better they are than most other teams when they do everything well. Meanwhile, West Virginia hasn’t played a single-digit seed yet, but they are coming off a pretty dominant second half against Washington in the Sweet 16. So do you think the Mountaineers can give hang with the Wildcats?

TIM: I don’t know about you, but what I’m most excited to watch in this game is Devin Ebanks guarding John Wall. The 6-foot-9 Ebanks was terrific on Thursday against the 5-foot-10 Isaiah Thomas, and it will be interesting to see if he’s quick enough to stick with Wall and if his length can disrupt the Kentucky offense.

Either way, this game might even be lower-scoring than Butler and Kansas State. Kentucky showed off its defensive chops against Cornell the same way Memphis did back in 2008 under Calipari while the Mountaineers have a stable of athletic wings that clean the glass. West Virginia won’t turn it over and it doesn’t rely on the three-pointer too much, which should limit Kentucky’s run-outs and transition baskets. I don’t expect both teams to get to 60.

JOHN S: Yeah, I don’t think that’s going out on that far of a limb; UK’s defense has been stellar all Tournament, and West Virginia hasn’t really been an offensive powerhouse, only cracking 70 once in the Tournament. As for Ebanks on Wall, I’m always intrigued by bigger guys guarding out on the perimeter, but I’m not optimistic that Ebanks can keep up with Wall. With all due respect to Isaiah Thomas, he’s no John Wall, and Wall is, like, way faster than most other guards in the Tournament.

TIM: Another problem for West Virginia offensively is the lack of a legit point guard. I mean, this was a weakness even before Truck Bryant got hurt. Joe Mazzulla is a black hole after he passes the ball, and I can see him being hassled into a few turnovers on the perimeter or at least into initiating the offense further out than the Mountaineers want to.

One thing WVU has going for it, though, is Da’Sean Butler. Bill Self made a pretty good point on CBS earlier about how this game was going to come down to who could make “guarded shots,” and Butler is as good as anyone in that regard.

You make a good point about the Mountaineers being able to limit the Wildcats in transition, though. Even in a low-scoring affair against Cornell, it was missed shots by the Big Red that helped fuel Kentucky’s run. Probably more important than Ebanks-on-Wall will be if the great rebounders on West Virginia–Ebanks, Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones, Wellington Smith–will be able to keep Demarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson off the boards. Otherwise, it’ll be hard to slow the Kentucky offense down.

JOHN S: Was that the smartest thing Bill Self’s done in this Tournament?

TIM: Wait…when was Bill Self in this Tournament?

JOHN S: ZING!…Well, I think the loss of Bryant is important, but as long as Mazzulla doesn’t turn the ball over too much, the Mountaineers should be OK. It’s not like Bryant was a huge part of that offense anyway.

I, too, like Butler, and I think he’s the best shot to give Kentucky’s defense problems. If West Virginia keeps Kentucky from running in the open court and Butler scores in the halfcourt, then the Mountaineers can take this one to the wire. So, who ya got?

TIM: You know, I had West Virginia beating Kentucky here and advancing to the championship game. But, in the proud tradition of Diamond Joe Quimby, I am flip-flopping! Bryant’s a bigger part of the offense than you give him credit for (he’s their second-best three-point shooter), and I just can’t see WVU finding enough easy baskets here. They can sell out to offensively rebound (UK isn’t great on the defensive glass, but a lot of teams don’t exploit this because they try to get back on D), but even then, their looks on the interior will be challenged by DeMarcus Cousins and Co. I don’t think it’s pretty on either end, but I think Kentucky controls a 10-12 point lead for most of the game and finishes it off.

And John Wall gets a chance to play against one of the two teams he spurned to go to UK.come down to who could make “guarded shots,” and Butler is as good as anyone in that regard.

JOHN S: Well, I’m similar–except that instead of originally having UK losing to West Virginia, I had them losing to Texas in Round 2. Another brilliant pick by me! But the Wildcats have been the best team in the Tournament and it’s not particularly close, either. I’ll take Kentucky, both because I think they will win and because I want to curse Tim’s pick.

Oh, and a John Calipari/Bob Huggins coaching battle might be the most dislikable pairing in all of sports.

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