NCAA Tournament Sweet 16: UK Biggest Favorite Vs. West Virginia
To no surprise, the top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats are the biggest favorites in the eight games of the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 this weekend with UK at -13.5 against No. 5 seed West Virginia. The Cats remain even-money Bovada favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis and a huge 1/4 favorite to win the Midwest Region. The winner of this game plays either Notre Dame or Wichita State in the Elite Eight.
WVU Can Defend
WVU put on a defensive clinic in Columbus, Ohio, last weekend, forcing a flood of turnovers, turning mistakes into points and stamping themselves as an opponent that is going to make life miserable for its opponents. Against Buffalo in a 68-62 victory on Friday and then the Maryland Terrapins in a 69-59 street fight on Sunday night, that relentless system also came with the benefit of a victory.
The Mountaineers had their leading scorer back in the lineup after a four-game absence, but with Juwan Staten still not quite looking fully like himself, Devin Williams stepped up to fill the void with invaluable offensive performances in both victories. The sophomore forward followed up a wildly efficient outing in the second round that included only one missed field goal on the way to a team-high 17 points with some rim-rattling dunks and 16 more points to lead the way past Maryland. Williams was an important cog in the West Virginia attack all season, averaging nearly 12 points per game, but he was able to give the Mountaineers even more at the most important time of year. Perhaps even more importantly for the Mountaineers, Williams was a force on the boards, topping his nine-rebound performance against Buffalo with 10 against the Terrapins. It was the 17th double-double of the sophomore’s career.
Against Maryland, the Mountaineers forced 23 turnovers, and they battered Melo Trimble, Maryland’s star freshman, who played fearlessly until a teammate’s kick in the head left him unable to return. They dismantled Dez Wells, the senior forward who has steadied the Terrapins this season. He turned the ball over eight times and struggled to find his shooting touch. In its last two games, West Virginia has caused 40 turnovers with a smothering press defense that is almost frightening to watch at times.
Huggins Successful Vs. Coach Cal
WVU coach Bob Huggins holds an 8-2 record against John Calipari, the Kentucky coach, who has had stops at Massachusetts and Memphis. The last time the teams played was in 2011, with Kentucky winning, 71-63. In 2010, the second-seeded Mountaineers upended the No. 1 Wildcats, 73-66, in the tournament’s round of 8.
“We’re gonna make it as ugly as we can make it,” Williams said. “At the end of the game, whatever way it goes, both teams have got to have their tongues hanging out of their mouths. That’s the only way it can be.”
It’s the only way West Virginia knows, an all-out, full-on defensive commitment designed to speed the pace, with chaos as the goal. There’s more to it; the Mountaineers are also relentless in rebounding, especially on the boards. They led the nation in offensive rebounding, which helps compensate for pedestrian shooting. With its combination of talent and depth — and with its sheer size — Kentucky is probably less susceptible to cracking under the pressure than many other teams.
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