What West Virginia Has to Do to Upset Kentucky
This might not be David versus Goliath.
It might not be the U.S. versus the Soviet Union.
It might not even be Happy Gilmore versus Shooter McGavin.
But, this matchup -- just like those above -- is very one-sided with one clear favorite.
The Kentucky Wildcats are the obvious favorites going into Thursday night's Sweet 16 matchup with the West Virginia Mountaineers -- and our numbers don't disagree. Our Game Simulator gives the Mountaineers a mere 8.65% to pull the unexpected upset.
However slim it might be, yes. West Virginia has as much chance as anyone thus far to take down the undefeated Cats. They'll have to play a great game, make few mistakes (if any), and hope Kentucky makes a few of their own.
A lot has to happen for West Virginia to shock the world. Let's take a look at the most crucial things the underdogs have to do and what they have to hope Kentucky fails to do in order to end Kentucky's historic run.
Push the Pace
The first thing West Virginia has to do is create the game they want and need to play in. The Mountaineers are 28th in the nation in Pace while the Wildcats are 193rd in the same category. West Virginia will want to play at a much faster pace, but how can they do that? They have to set the tone with their full court pressure.
Huggins' group is widely known for their on-ball pressure and their ability to speed up their opponents. Now they can't allow Kentucky to create tempo on their terms through turnovers, blocked shots, and run-outs. They have to set the pace on their terms and through their forced turnovers.
If West Virginia can do this and get out on the run, it could neutralize Kentucky's size -- something the Mountaineers really need to do. The Wildcats have an average height of 6'7" compared to the Mountaineers' average of 6'4". So, it's plain to see why the Mountaineers should speed the game up and prevent Kentucky from setting up their defense as much as possible.
Do What They Do Best
Like I said, West Virginia has to create their own pace through pressure but more importantly through steals. The Mountaineers lead the nation in steals, with 10.9 per game, and turnovers forced, with 19.6 forced turnovers per game. They'll have to do their best to wreak havoc all over the court if they hope to have a shot against Kentucky.
However, they have to do more than manufacture turnovers -- they have to rebound. It's going to be hard for the Mountaineers to deal with Kentucky's height advantage, but they have to do their best to keep the rebounding advantage to a minimum for the Wildcats. They should be able to make up some ground on the offensive end of the floor.
West Virginia's ranked first in the country in offensive rebounding with 16.5 per game and are fourth in Offensive Rebounding Rate, gathering 40.5% of the available offensive rebounds. That uncommonly accounts for 45.2% of their total rebounds -- wow. So, while the Mountaineers lack many distinct advantages, their athleticism on the offensive boards could cause problems for the Wildcats.
West Virginia has to do what they do best the very best that they could ever possibly do it -- and then they have to hope that Kentucky struggles in certain facets of the game.
What Kentucky Has to (Fail to) Do
That's right. Not only do the Mountaineers have to take advantage of their own strengths and opportunities, but they have to pray that the Wildcats have an off shooting night. That might not be as out of the question as we think at first.
The Wildcats are shooting a mediocre 41.7% from the floor in the tournament and an abysmal 28.0% from long range. If they continue their poor shooting, Kentucky could be playing right into West Virginia's hands. On the year, the Mountaineers have struggled to force their opponents into tough shots -- they're allowing the opposition to shoot 46.8% from the field. That ranks 328th in the nation.
There may not be much of a chance for the Mountaineers based on our projections and on Kentucky's strengths, but they can do their best to create an upset atmosphere in Cleveland on Thursday by turning the game into a frantic, fastbreaking affair in order to make their own luck in the process.