TAMPA, Fla. - It's probably unfair on several levels to refer to West Virginia's NCAA tournament game with Kentucky today as a rematch.
Aside from the coaches involved and a handful of largely role players from last year, what is the same about these two teams?
How similar is West Virginia after losing Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks to the NBA draft, along with starting center Wellington Smith? And what about Kentucky, which lost four of its five starters - not to mention a reserve - to the NBA?
Sure, Joe Mazzulla is still around for West Virginia, and he was the game's MVP last year when the Mountaineers beat the Wildcats. Kevin Jones had 13 points and eight rebounds. John Flowers played 23 minutes and had a nice little game with four points, four assists and three blocks. But everyone else on this year's team combined to play 11 minutes and score two points that night at the Carrier Dome.
Kentucky? Darius Miller was a starter and scored two points. DeAndre Liggins played 18 minutes and scored seven points. The only other UK player who got in the game was Jon Hood, who was on the floor for only a few seconds.
Of course, from West Virginia's standpoint, the reason this year's team is so different than last is essentially natural attrition. Yes, Ebanks left two years early for the NBA, but Butler and Smith were seniors. Even more of that natural attrition will take place when the Mountaineers lose their next game or play out the streak, whichever comes first. Five seniors depart this time, including starters Mazzulla, Flowers and Cam Thoroughman, along with Casey Mitchell and Jonnie West.
That's not the case with Kentucky, however. Four of John Calipari's top seven players on last year's team were freshmen who moved on after just one college season for the NBA. This year, perhaps two or three more will do the same thing.
Calipari, of course, has become the unquestioned and completely unrivaled master at exploiting the NBA's rule that prohibits players from joining the league until a year after their high school class graduates. Players who once jumped straight from high school to the pros and who now have to spend a year at a college weigh station - or overseas - choose to do so at Kentucky far more than they choose any other school.
All of which begs the question of Calipari: Does he like a rule that forces great high school players to stop off at a college (more often than not one he coaches) for a year, or does he not like a rule that strips him of his best players annually?
Calipari says he actually hates the rule, but if that's the way it's going to be then he's going to use it to every ounce of its advantage.