ESPN believes two of Kentucky’s opponents will be the top defensive teams in college basketball this. The site ranks Louisville No. 1 and West Virginia No. 2 in their list of the top defenses for the upcoming season.
Here’s what they say about both:
1. Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals have been making their headlines off the court of late, of course, and as a result, Rick Pitino will serve a five-game suspension when his team begins ACC play this season. That alone makes Louisville a risky choice for “best defense in the nation” honors or any superlatives. Duly noted.
Strictly on paper, however, there’s a lot to like with this group of Cardinals. Last season, Pitino’s guys held ACC opponents to just 1.01 points per trip, despite the fact that Louisville was merely pretty good but not great at both rebounding misses and forcing turnovers. One of those “pretty good” traits might stay merely so-so in 2017-18 (and it might be defensive rebounding), but it’s doubtful that both will. Plus, with a front line anchored by Ray Spalding and a reportedly beefed-up Anas Mahmoud, the Cards are going to force a high number of misses. Replacing Donovan Mitchell will be no small challenge on offense, but Pitino should once again have an elite defense when he returns from his suspension.
2. West Virginia Mountaineers
Last season in Big 12 play, the Mountaineers had the best defense in the league, and Bob Huggins is bringing back Daxter Miles, Esa Ahmad and — oh, by the way — reigning national defensive player of the year Jevon Carter. With Carter and Miles leading the way, Press Virginia could again force conference opponents to give the ball away on nearly one in every four possessions.
In fact, the WVU defense in 2016-17 was likely even better than it looked. The Big 12 made a whopping 39 percent of its 3s against the Mountaineers. That number is likely to drop this season, and as it does, Huggins and the Mountaineers will reap the defensive rewards. The only question with this unit, as always, is fouls. West Virginia has recorded far and away the league’s highest foul rate in Big 12 play in each of the past three seasons. Huggins likely views this as a cost of doing business, which, in a way, it is. But it also represents an exceptionally large number of opponent points just begging to be raided and reduced.