Guess Who’s Coming to Morgantown?
By Bob Hertzel
It is a friendly rivalry, this thing that Bob Huggins has going with John Calipari, and it’s coming to Morgantown, bringing the national spotlight with it.
That’s right, Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats — a team always chock full of future NBA All-Stars — is coming to the Coliseum on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, as part of the annual Big 12-SEC Challenge series.
It isn’t every day Kentucky pays a visit to our fine area.
It fact, they haven’t been in Morgantown since 1970, and have come only three times in history.
Kentucky, of course, is one of the legendary names in college basketball, a perennial power from the days of Adolph Rupp and Rupp’s Runts, who were on the losing side of history when Texas El-Paso beat them with a starting five of all African-Americans while UK had not yet integrated, to the teams of Calipari, with the likes of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis among the two dozen former players who were active in the NBA this year.
That last meeting in Morgantown was on Pearl Harbor Day in 1970, and yes, Kentucky was pretty good then, too, being ranked third in the nation. Those were days of fast-action basketball and the Cats won that third game ever played in the Coliseum, 106-100.
It was the far cry from the basketball played the first time the Wildcats visited, that being on Jan. 11, 1941, when WVU walked away with a 56-43 victory.
This well may be the perfect year for this rivalry to be renewed on the Mountaineers’ home court, for Kentucky comes in loaded again … in fact, even more loaded than anyone imagined they would be.
It seems that just minutes before Wednesday’s deadline to declare for the draft or opt out, the Cats’ five-star recruit, Hamidou Diallo, told the world he was remaining in school to play a year with an incoming recruiting class that is ranked No. 1 in the nation.
But they aren’t going to come into Huggins’ house and loom large over a WVU team that felt it should have gone further in the NCAAs last year than it did when Gonzaga — the national runner-up — pulled out a victory that well could have been WVU’s.
The Mountaineers come armed with a lot of weapons of their own, led by an announcement a couple of days before the draft deadline that was important to WVU as was Diallo’s to Kentucky.
Jevon Carter, the linchpin of the defense and a rising offensive star, also decided to return to school and understands as a senior that he will have the nation’s attention in this game, so look for his best to come out.
What’s more, if WVU is going to play a team as physical as Kentucky is, it is armed for such a challenge in this year with its emerging big man in Sagaba Konate, a shot-blocking machine, who with the departure of Elijah Macon, now figures to own the inside on his own.
It makes this 21st renewal of the rivalry even more interesting, far more interesting than Kentucky’s 15-5 advantage would have you believe it is.
Kentucky owns nine victories in the last 10 meetings, but that WVU victory was a doozy, for it came in Syracuse, New York, in the Elite Eight of the NCAA, Huggins out-coaching Calipari by springing a 1-3-1 zone on him and his four future NBA players to score a 73-66 upset.
That sent the Mountaineers to their second Final Four in history.
If the on-court play-by-play between these two teams is intense, the off-court byplay between Huggins and Calipari, who have combined for 1,433 victories, right down to the coincidence of Huggins learning as he rode in an ambulance to a Pittsburgh hospital after a near-fatal heart attack that the person attending him was Calipari’s cousin.
Huggins seems well aware of just what he has this season, for he has put together an interesting and challenging schedule that includes opening the season in Germany against Texas A&M at Ramstein Air Force Base on Nov. 10.
They host Virginia in a return engagement of last year’s road game on Dec. 5, play Pitt in a renewal of the Backyard Brawl on Dec. 9, that coming after a Thanksgiving tournament in Orlando, Fla.
And the cherry on top of all that is the Kentucky game in what figures to be a touch of March Madness in January.