The Big 12/SEC Challenge being moved to January was meant to give a break from the grind of conference play, for both the fans and the players. Unfortunately for the Kentucky Wildcats, that break means traveling to Morgantown to play in one of the toughest places to play in the country.
The West Virginia Mountaineers are currently ranked as the 7th best team in the country, but have gone through a rough stretch as of late, losing three of their last four to bring their overall record to 16-4 on the season. They were ranked as high as number 2 a few weeks back, as they hadn’t lost a game since their opening night loss to Texas A&M.
West Virginia’s heralded defense is going to be the hardest test these young Wildcats have faced all season. If the Kentucky guards don’t keep their composure, this game could get ugly in a hurry. Let’s take a look at the probable starting lineup for the Mountaineers tonight.
#2 Jevon Carter, Senior Guard, 6’2″
Jevon Carter is one of the best guards in the country. His ability to fill it up on offense, paired with the fact that he’s most likely the best on-ball defender in the country, makes him a nightmare for opposing backcourts. He’s a three time Big 12 All-Defensive team member, as well as won Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Most people get so caught up in Carter’s staunch defensive abilities, that they don’t realize he’s a stud on the offensive end as well. Carter is leading the team in points with 16.9 per game and assists with 6.5, as well as nearly leading the country in steals with 3.4. Carter is also pulling don 5.2 rebounds per game which is good for second on the team. He shoots 38.7% from three and 85.3% from the free throw line.
With the press that West Virginia puts on, Carter will be at the forefront of the defense, but when they pick up in man defense, he’ll match up with the point guard in the Kentucky lineup. Both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green have a reasoning for being on the floor tonight. Green’s ball-handling will needed, but Shai’s defense will also be needed.
#4 Daxter Miles Jr, Senior Guard, 6’3″
Daxter Miles Jr is most memorable to Kentucky fans for being the West Virginia player who guaranteed victory over the Kentucky platoon team when the two matched up in the Sweet 16. Obviously, Kentucky got the better of Miles, dominating on the way to a 39 point victory. Since then, Miles has turned into a a four year starter for Bob Huggins.
The senior guard is having the best season of his career, seeing a scoring jump to make him the second leading scorer on this year’s squad. He’s currently averaging 13.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Part of WVU’s offense involves quick jump shots, and Miles and Carter have been taking a bunch of treys this season. Miles has taken 93 threes on the season, but has only made 24 of those attempts for a 25.8% clip.
Miles is another solid defender for the Mountaineers, along with Carter in the back court. He’ll match up with Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo at the two guard position. Diallo did a much better job in the Kentucky win earlier this week of not trying to do too much on offense and passing the ball. The big key for beating the West Virginia press is not to try to dribble through it, but to quickly pass over it and get the ball over half-court. Diallo will have to keep his composure against the pressure.
#15 Lamont West, Sophomore Forward, 6’8″
Lamont West is a redshirt sophomore who is in his first year as a starter for the Mountaineers. He’s one of three starters who are 6’8″ on the backline for West Virginia. He was named to the Academic All-Big 12 Men’s Basketball Second Team last year.
The Mountaineers may have found a hidden gem in former three star recruit Lamont West. In his first season of seeing real playing time, he’s a strong contributor already. He’s giving Coach Huggins 11.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, while shooting 32.3% on his 99 attempts from deep on the year. He is one of four Mountaineers to have attempted over 90 threes this year, while Kentucky has just one player with over 50 attempts.
At 6’8″ and 230 pounds, West will actually match up to the size that Kevin Knox has at the small forward position. There aren’t many team that start someone that tall and long at the 3, but Knox and West are pretty similar in their ability to play on the perimeter at that size. Kentucky is going to need Knox hitting shots if they want a chance to pull off the upset.
#50 Sagaba Konate, Sophomore Forward, 6’8″
Sagaba Konate is the intimidating post presence at the back of the West Virginia press and he’s having a fantastic defensive season. Last year, Konate set the freshman block record at WVU, while only playing 10 minutes per contest. A three-star recruit out of high school, Konate has the ability to play with the best teams in the country, as evidenced by his 22 blocks over the last four games.
Konate is nearly averaging a double-double on the season, currently giving the Mountaineers 9.6 points and a team leading 8.2 rebounds. He ranks sixth in the country at 3.3 blocks per game. The most impressive part of Konate’s interior defense is how he can defend without fouling, averaging less than 3 fouls per game.
Tonight more so than any other game so far this season, Kentucky will need freshman center Nick Richards to play up to the potential he was thought to have prior to the start of the season. Richards has the tendency to go ghost mode in games, only popping up to allow offensive rebounds or to turn the ball over in the post, and Kentucky will need him to give more than a goose egg if they want to keep up.
#21 Wesley Harris, Sophomore Forward, 6’8″
Wesley Harris is the third 6’8″ sophomore starter for Bob Huggins this season, setting himself up for an extremely experienced front court in the few years to come. He attended Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Alabama last season but used a redshirt due to injury.
Harris has the ability to stretch the floor a little and will try to lure Kentucky big’s away from the basket so that the talented guards have avenues for drive and kick plays. He’s giving West Virginia 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds this year. He shoots 29.1% from three and 70.2% from the charity stripe.
Harris is more of a wing player than a power forward, but still probably matches up at the four with Kentucky’s PJ Washington. Washington has a nearly 40 pound weight advantage, meaning he should be able to score in the paint on Harris if given the opportunity.
Go Cats. Beat Mountaineers.