Thirty-six teams have tried to beat No. 1 Kentucky this season, and 36 teams have failed.
Well, that changes this Thursday – or so says Shane Battier.
Yes, the Duke legend and two-time NBA champion believes that No. 5 West Virginia (25-9) will topple the Wildcats (36-0) in the Sweet 16.
“I just got a feeling,” Battier said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Judging by my tenth-place finish in my own bracket – out of 12 teams – (some would) called me an expert. My wife is kicking my butt right now in my own pool. (But) I just think that to beat Kentucky, you can’t play in a conventional manner. You can’t just line them up and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to throw it in the post, and we’re going to overpower you.’ Kentucky is too god. They’re the best team. No question, they are the best team. But West Virginia is the most unconventional team in the country.”
West Virginia dropped three of four to close the season but has responded with tournament wins over Buffalo and Maryland. The Mountaineers had balanced scoring against the Terps, with four starters – Devin Williams, Gary Browne, Jonathan Holton and Daxter Miles Jr. – finishing with between 12 and 16 points.
West Virginia also forced 23 Maryland turnovers while committing only 10.
“They’re No. 1 in forcing turnovers,” Battier said. “They’re going to force 20 turnovers (against Kentucky). They are (one of the best teams in) offensive rebounding. What’s Kentucky’s weakness? Offensive rebounding. I think most importantly the toughness of West Virginia is going to give Kentucky problems. They’re going to sock them in the mouth and we’ll see how Kentucky reacts. I’m excited.”
Tip-off on Thursday is slated for 9:45 p.m. ET.
Twenty-four hours later, Battier’s alma mater will take on No. 5 Utah. The Blue Devils (31-4) and Utes (26-8) square off Friday at 9:45 p.m. ET.
Is Duke good enough to win it all, or will its shortcomings prevent Mike Krzyzewski from winning his fifth national title?
“Well, they’re really good – offensively especially,” Battier said. “Their woes on the defensive end concern me a little bit. Look, to win a national championship, you got to be in the top 20 in offense and defense in terms of efficiency. They’re an elite offensive team: top five in the county, shoot the three ball, are just crushing teams in the paint.
“(But) they’re only a top-50 defensive team, which is cause for concern,” Battier continued. “They haven’t played a team that historically has given Duke problems on the defensive end – teams that really break down the guards and get into the paint and kick for threes and finish. I don’t know if Utah is that team – although Delon Wright is really, really good.
“But look, (Duke has) a shot (to win it all). You got one of the best players in the country – I think the best talent in Jahlil Okafor. You have a shot.”