Kentucky has as many thoroughbreds as The Derby
West Virginia gets as much mileage — and as many wins — from its first 12 players as any team in America. There are two wins in the NCAA Tournament to show for the value of effort, pressure defense and more than a touch of courage.
But the Mountaineers get so little out of their halfcourt offense. And as a team they don’t shoot well at all.
They have made a comfortable living by keeping many games at the sometimes frenetic tempo they want to see. Opponents can’t keep to a set, practiced plan because the pressure they see hasn’t allowed them to keep to any pattern or plan.
West Virginia has caused more turnovers than any of the 351 Division I teams in the land. It has claimed a higher percentage of offensive rebounds than any other team. But it has lost nine times . . . and last night’s opponent, Kentucky, has yet to lose.
Somebody has to play unbeaten Kentucky in the round called the Sweet Sixteen.
The Mountaineers defeated Buffalo and Maryland. It did so when Juwan Staten and Gary Browne returned for the first time in a month.
Kentucky towers over the Mountaineers, no matter who coach Bob Huggins brings to the game.
These Wildcats are not a soft bunch of McDonald’s All America types. Their game against Cincinnati was basically hand-to-hand combat . . . and they won — once owning a 19-point lead near the end.
Kentucky won’t back down from West Virginia. West Virginia won’t back down from Kentucky.
It’s total nonsense that Kentucky has nine NBA draft picks on its roster. Marcus Lee is as ordinary as anybody who ever played Division I basketball and freshman Tyler Ulis is 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds. Not too many 5-foot-9 NBA players around since Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb retired.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a quality player and so is the athletic 7-footer, Willie Cauley-Stein. Watch out for the hyphenated names when facing Kentucky.
Trey Lyles is 6-foot-10 and when self-motivated he can be very good. The Texas Twins — Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison — are 6-foot-6 guards. Freshman Devin Booker shoots from all over, rarely seeing a time when he wants to pass. Another 7-footer, Dakari Johnson, can be effective.
On any given night, coach John Calipari can find eight effective players. His “trees” blocked nine shots against Cincinnati. Towns has actually blocked almost twice as many shots as Cauley-Stein.
But if Booker is missing his constant stream of 22-footers and the Twins can’t make perimeter shots, Kentucky can be close to ordinary — as it was in a 71-69 win in Baton Rouge against LSU.
Fort Knox is in Kentucky. That’s where the country’s gold supply is held. Much of the country’s “basketball gold” supply is up the road a little bit from Lexington, usually playing before a sellout crowd of 24,000 leather-lunged partisans at Rupp Arena.
The outcome of any college basketball game is always an uncertainty.
A West Virginia win would have been a colossal upset, but taking an exit after reaching the Sweet Sixteen has left a season flavored with spice, energy and vinegar as provided by a team that has never been short on effort — only shooters.