All previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule
West Virginia Mountaineers
Conference: Big Twelve
Date: Thursday, March 26
Time: 9:45 pm Eastern
Location: Cleveland, OH
Now they're 36-0; next in line is West Virginia, who like Cincinnati has their own defensive twist.
Kentucky West Virginia
SportsRatings Power Ratings
Strength: #1 Strength: #21
Median play: #1 Median play: #13
Other Power Ratings
Sagarin(predictor):#1 Sagarin: #23
Pomeroy: #1 Pomeroy: #26
Offense: #6 Offense: #38
Defense: #1 Defense: #36
LRMC: #1* LRMC: #28*
BPI: #1 BPI: #20
Power Rating Derivatives
2nd half/season: #2 2nd half/season: #32
Last 6 games: #5 Last 6 games: #22
Consistency: #266 Consistency: #273
West Virginia has a pretty efficient offense, and pretty efficient defense. But neither is top 25 level, while Kentucky is top ten in both, #1 in defense, and #1 in every power rating surveyed.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (15): Buffalo+19, =Kansas+32, Providence+20, Texas+12, North Carolina+14, =UCLA+39, @Louisville+8, Mississippi+OT, Georgia+11, @LSU+2, Arkansas+17, @Georgia+8, =Arkansas+15, =Hampton+23, =Cincinnati+13
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (3): North Carolina+14, =UCLA+39, @Louisville+8
- Losses to tournament teams (0): None
- Other losses (0): None
Key Info: The chart and the 13 tournament team wins—and the lack of losses, tournament or otherwise—speak for themselves. Not only is it pretty amazing, but it refutes the last possible objection to Kentucky's march to going 40-0—consistency. The team has become perhaps the most consistent team in the country over the last 9 games or so. They dipped to #4 over the last six games, but playing at that high level without variation is something else. It looks exactly like Louisville's chart before they won the tournament two years ago—except without any red in it. What else can we say about Kentucky? They have too many good players to even address, so we'll use tournament game results to highlight them.
The Hampton game was a notch down from their last 10 games—their worst since the 2-point LSU win. Against the Pirates Karl-Anthony Towns led with 21. They were held to 37% shooting by Cincinnati but held the Bearcats to 32%; Aaron Harrison led with 13.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (10): Lafayette+27, =North Carolina St.+14, Wofford+33, Oklahoma+21, Kansas+1, @Oklahoma St.+10, Texas+7, Oklahoma St.+9, =Buffalo+6, =Maryland+10
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (2): =North Carolina St.+14, Oklahoma+21
- Losses to tournament teams (9): LSU-1, Iowa St.-2, @Texas-27, @Oklahoma-19, Baylor-18, @Iowa St.-20, @Baylor-12, @Kansas-OT, =Baylor-10
- Other losses (0): none
Key Info: West Virginia started out strong at 14-1, but a lot of that was their #256 non-conference schedule. When the Big Twelve started, losses followed, some of them blowouts: Texas by 27, Oklahoma by 19, Iowa State by 20. But other than LSU, they never lost to a team ranked worse than 20th in Pomeroy, and they didn't lose to a single non-NCAA tournament team. The Mountaineers finished losing three of their last four—twice to Baylor, once to Kansas—but they were missing injured point guards Juwan Staten (leading scorer with 14.5) and Gary Browne (7.0 ppg). Even without crucial parts to their turnover-creating defensive pressure they forced Kansas into overtime. Bob Huggins says his players will be back for Friday's game.
Huggins was right; both started against Buffalo and combined for 20 points while Devin Williams led with 17. Williams then had 16 points and 10 rebounds against Maryland.
Game Analysis: Obviously Kentucky has the edge here, but even though Cincinnati stifled their offense, the game wasn't a real, down-to-the-wire test that even dominant teams face during the tournament. Will West Virginia be the team to give them that test, keeping it tight until the very end, maybe with a chance to win? One interesting thing about the Mountaineers tournament so far: they've played better than Kentucky. If we look at just those two games, West Virginia would be a 1/4 point favorite.
Cincinnati's defense gave Kentucky's offense problems, and now West Virginia brings their press. The Mountaineers are #1 in the nation in steals; they had 15 against Maryland. However, Kentucky is 19th in avoiding steals. And West Virginia's defensive strategy is high-risk. If it doesn't affect the Wildcats it could backfire and the Mountaineers could be blown out, something that has happened to them several times this year (Texas by 27, Oklahoma by 19, Baylor by 18, Iowa State by 20).
On offense, both teams are about rebounding, and are the among the best in the nation in that category. So is Baylor, a team that beat West Virginia three times this year.
Kentucky by 13 1/2
Power rating: spread
Kentucky by 11.9
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
West Virginia: 21.7%
As usual, the Wildcats are a healthy favorite. Vegas' extended spread over the Strength power rating suggests that the oddsmakers think West Virginia's strategy won't pay off. Historically, 1-seeds have defeated 5-seeds 80% of the time, so Kentucky's odds here aren't far off from the norm.
Bottom line: Kentucky is due for a true test. But West Virginia's defense is very different than Cincinnati's slow-pace, grind-down style. They press and go for steals, which is a gamble. It could pay off—or backfire spectacularly. Noting all the lesser teams that managed to overcome the press—only one of which is still alive in the tournament—it seems that Kentucky has talent enough to shred it. And while it's true they haven't played well in the tournament so far, that could just as easily mean they're due for a good game.
Final prediction: Kentucky 86, West Virginia 61
More previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule.