The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York is the place for the East Regional final, as Bob Huggins and his No. 2 seed West Virginia Mountaineers (30-6) tip it off with John Calipari and the No. 1 seed Kentucky Wildcats (35-2).
The Big East clashes with the SEC for a spot in the Final Four. The Mountaineers seek their first trip to the Final Four in 50 years, when WVU lost the national championship in 1959.
Kentucky won the national title in 1998. The Wildcats have not made it back to the Final Four since then.
With a win, Calipari will take a third different school to the Final Four. WVU would be the second school Huggins has taken to the last weekend of the season. Huggins is 7-1 all-time against Calipari. West Virginia will play without their starting point guard, Darryl Bryant, who was injured in practice.
Jodie Meeks dropped 19 and Patrick Patterson added 15 as the Wildcats trimmed the Mountaineers 54-43 in last year’s Las Vegas Invitational.
Kentucky holds a 13-4 advantage in a series that dates back to the 1923-24 season. The Wildcats have taken the last seven games in the series. The last time WVU beat Kentucky was 1959a 79-70 triumph in the Kentucky Invitational.
West Virginia is making its 23rd appearance in the NCAA Tournament and third trip to the Elite Eight. This is Kentucky’s 50th appearance in the dance. The ‘Cats have 13 Final Four appearances and seven national championships.
Thirteen Mountaineers have played in the NBA. Joe Alexander is the only current alum of West Virginia basketball in the Association. Sixty-seven Wildcats have made their way into the NBA including current players Kelenna Azubuike, Keith Bogans, Chuck Hayes, Jamaal Magloire, Jodie Meeks, Nazr Mohammed, Randolph Morris, Tayshaun Prince, and Rajon Rondo.
Who will establish tempo, and which players will execute? Kentucky averages almost 79 points a game while allowing 60. West Virginia goes for almost 73 per game and keeps opponents to 63. Thursday night, they held Washington to 24 points under their average.
Huggins deploys seven of his troops for double-digit minutes. Da’Sean Butler leads three Mountaineers with average scoring in double figures.
Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks combine for 25 points and 15.5 rebounds for the Mountaineers. The Mountaineers hold a plus-7 advantage on the glass.
WVU will need to slow the ‘Cats in transition.
Freshman phenom John Wall leads four Wildcats in double figures with 16.5 points per game. Wall adds 6.6 assists, four rebounds, and just under two steals.
Eric Bledsoe averages 39.8 percent from long range. It is not so much that Bledsoe has hit from behind, but that he is threat from long range. West Virginia will need to stay close to Bledsoe, which will open up more room for Wall to drive.
Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins combine for 17 boards per game. Cousins grabs almost four offensive rebounds per game. The frontcourt tandem scores almost 30 a contest.
In the Regional Semifinal Cornell held Kentucky to 62 points. The Wildcats did not break 40 until the game’s 32nd minute. Huggins had a front-row seat for the game. Can the Mountaineers execute a page or two from the Big Red’s play book?
West Virginia will need to resist the temptation to get into a track meet with Kentucky.That would be an exercise in futility. The Mountaineers need to win the game in the paint.
Huggins’ troops will slow it down and give Butler another chance to finish in the closing minutes. WVU advances to the Final Four.