When the West Virginia Mountaineers take on the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday night, a trip to the Final Four will be on the line. West Virginia will be seeking their second Final Four appearance, and Kentucky will be going for their 14th.
West Virginia is the No. 2 seed in the East Regional and Kentucky the No. 1 seed.
The key for West Virginia will be to slow Kentucky down, and to not let them get easy buckets in transition. They faced two similar teams in this regard in the NCAA Tournament, in Missouri and Washington, and slowed both of them down. Although, neither of the two teams are as good as Kentucky.
When West Virginia keeps teams less than 70 points this season, they are 26-0. Look for West Virginia to keep this a low scoring game, by getting back on defense and not letting John Wall get his transition offense going.
The most intriguing match-up for West Virginia on defense, will be forward Devin Ebanks on star Kentucky point guard John Wall. Ebanks is an elite defender and goes against the opponents’ best offensive player. Wall is quicker than Ebanks, but he has not seen someone of his size, 6''9, and length try to guard him.
Ebanks has had success against some elite college players this season. In the regular season finale against Villanova, he guarded Scottie Reynolds, who went just 5-16 and 1-9 from three. His best defense performance came in the second half of the Ohio State game, where he held Big 10 player of the year Evan Turner to 0-4 shooting and four turnovers.
The biggest problem West Virginia will have on defense is guarding DeMarcus Cousins, who is 6'11, 270 pounds. Wellington Smith will get the start, but he is just 6'7, 245 pounds. Cousins is averaging 15 points a game, and is one of the best big men in college basketball.
However, Cousins struggles from the foul line, shooting 60 percent on the year. In three games in the NCAA Tournament, he is just 6-20. Look for West Virginia to rotate 4-5 different guys on him, and to send him to the line often.
The key for West Virginia offensively is Devin Ebanks. Senior forward Da'Sean Butler will likely draw Darius Miller, leaving John Wall to guard Ebanks. Ebanks will have a size advantage, and has been averaging nearly 13 points a game the second half of the season. He will need to step-up and become the Mountaineers third scoring threat behind Butler and forward Kevin Jones.
The biggest key for West Virginia will be to out-rebound Kentucky. Both teams are great rebounding teams, and in what is expected to be a close game, rebounding will likely be the deciding factor. West Virginia rebounds about 40 percent of their missed shots, and they will need second chance points to win versus Kentucky.
If West Virginia can continue to rebound and Devin Ebanks has a big game, they will have a great chance at advancing to the Final Four.