How No. 1 seed Kentucky and No. 5 West Virginia match up:
At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, West Virginia's Daxter Miles Jr. is the third guard in WVU's starting lineup. The freshman (7.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg) has taken his game to the next level down the stretch, averaging 13.4 ppg in the Mountaineers' last seven games (with 17 made three-pointers). The Baltimore product has averaged 11 points in two NCAA tourney games.
Kentucky's Trey Lyles averaged 10.5 ppg and 8.5 rebounds in the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament wins over Hampton and Cincinnati. The 6-10, 235-pound Lyles figures to be a nightmare defensive matchup for WVU in the halfcourt, but he will presumably have to chase a backcourt player on the defensive end.
West Virginia's Jonathan Holton began his college career at Rhode Island, where he averaged 10.2 points and 8.2 rebounds in 2011-12 to earn a place on the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team. A Miami product, the 6-7, 220-pound Holton spent 2012-13 at Palm Beach State Community College in his native Florida. He then redshirted at WVU last season. This year, the junior has averaged 7.6 ppg and 5.7 rpg. He hit only five of 13 shots with a combined four rebounds in WVU's NCAA tourney victories over Buffalo and Maryland.
Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns did not have his "A" game (eight points, seven rebounds) in UK's round-of-32 win over Cincinnati but the 6-11, 255-pound freshman has scored in double figures in 10 of UK's last 16 games. Of Towns' team-high eight double-doubles, two (Hampton in NCAA, Florida in SEC) have come in tournament play.
Though under-publicized, WVU's Devin Williams is an emerging star. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound sophomore from Bob Huggins' old stomping grounds in Cincinnati (Withrow High School) is averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament. In two years in Morgantown, Williams has already put up 17 double-doubles.
Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein had only nine points and two rebounds in UK's round-of-32 defeat of Cincinnati, but the 7-foot junior's ferocious slam dunk over UC's Quadri Moore late in the first half decisively turned the momentum of the game in the Wildcats' favor. If Kentucky is successful in breaking West Virginia's full-court press, The Cauley-Stein Aerial Daredevil Show could fly again.
Senior Gary Browne is West Virginia's most experienced player, having played in 128 games for the Mountaineers. The 6-1, 195-pound Puerto Rico product (7.2 points, 39 steals) has had his shot dialed in for the NCAA tourney, having made four of seven three-point tries.
After going 0-for-5 from the floor (0-for-2 on three-pointers) in UK's NCAA Tournament debut vs Hampton, Aaron Harrison found his shooting stroke against Cincinnati. The 6-6 sophomore scored 13 points and hit three of seven three-point tries vs UC. No Kentucky fan will ever forget what the Richmond, Texas, native did in last season's NCAA tourney once UK reached the round of 16.
West Virginia's Juwan Staten earned All-Big 12 first-team honors this season for the second straight year. Out of Dayton, Ohio, by way of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, Staten (14.2 ppg, 4.8 assists) is one of the best point guards in the country. The 6-1, 190-pound senior has already graduated from WVU with a degree in public relations and is working on a master's in sports management.
In UK's five postseason tournament games (three SEC, two NCAA), Andrew Harrison (9.2 ppg, 3.6 assists) has committed a turnover in only one game (two vs. Auburn). The sophomore figures to be tested against "Press Virginia" — the full-court pressing Mountaineers lead the nation in steals (10.3 a game).
Advantage: West Virginia
West Virginia is one of the few teams in the country that regularly uses as many players as Kentucky. The Mountaineers have 10 players averaging double figures in minutes played. Sixth man Jevon Carter, a 6-2 freshman from Maywood, Ill., is a defensive dervish (team-best 67 steals) and is WVU's third-leading scorer (8.2). Jaysean Paige, a sturdy 6-2, 200-pound junior, is from Jamestown, N.Y., but finished his high school career at Perry County Central in Eastern Kentucky. He's averaging 5.8 ppg and has made 38.5 percent of his three-pointers. A 6-9, 240-pound redshirt freshman, Elijah Macon (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) is the top frontline sub for WVU.
John Calipari has quietly been relying on freshman point guard Tyler Ulis more and more late in the season. In UK's seven most recent games, the 5-9 freshman (5.4 ppg, 3.8 assists) has played more than 30 minutes in four of them. Everyone in the commonwealth has a theory on what is needed to get freshman guard Devin Booker (5-for-19 field goals the past three games) out of his shooting slump. Big men Dakari Johnson (eight minutes) and Marcus Lee (two minutes) did not get much run against Cincinnati in the round of 32.
Teams coached by Bob Huggins are 8-2 all-time against those coached by John Calipari. Huggins and WVU stunned a top-seeded Kentucky led by future NBA players John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson in the 2010 NCAA East Region finals. That is the only victory over Kentucky that Huggins (1-4) has recorded as a head coach, though.
Calipari and UK got a measure of revenge on West Virginia in the 2011 NCAA tourney, rallying from eight down at halftime to beat the Mountaineers 71-63 in the round of 32. Overall, Kentucky has won eight of its last nine meetings with West Virginia. UK is 34-10 all-time in round-of-16 games (its 1988 loss to Villanova was vacated due to NCAA violations by Kentucky). The Cats have won their past six Sweet 16 games, the last loss coming to eventual national champion Maryland in 2002.