Four years ago, I wrote this FanPost before the UofL v. UConn game that ultimately featured the #1 v. #5 team, meaning that the composite rank of the teams was 6. (At the time I wrote it, the new polls had not been released, and the UConn game was on Big Monday):
Monday’s match-up will be the #1 team in America (having earned that ranking deep into the season) v. our own beloved team likely to be ranked #6 or even #5. That’s a composite ranking of #7 or higher. I cannot think of another Cards regular season game of such import based upon the rankings, and certainly, I don’t think there have been any home games this important. Not to mention that there is a good chance it will decide 1st place in the BE at the end of the season, and the winner of the game will put themselves in stong position to claim a #1 seed the NCAA in March. Last season's Georgetown game might have had more technically on the line, but neither team was sitting as high as the Cards will be tomorrow (G-town was #8).
Dr. Hustle performed some excellent research in the comments to that FanPost, and he provided a complete list of top 10 match ups after 1980:
This Saturday, we have a near repeat of that ranking, but with UofL being the team holding the #1 slot. Syracuse is ranked 6th. Now, I cannot say that this game has the same feel or overall import that the UConn game had at the time, but considering our current rank, there is perhaps as much or more anticipation and excitement in the air. I don't think anyone feels like "this is our chance to win a marquee game" or "this is our chance to stake a claim to a #1 seed." (And oddly, we got smacked around by UConn, but both teams earned #1 seeds).
Still, Dr. Hustle's research showed how rare these types of match ups were for the Cards in the Metro and C-USA eras. And here is the short list of top 10 match ups since the UConn game 4 years ago:
#1 UConn @ #5 UofL.
#1 UofL v. #8 MSU (Regional Final, neutral floor).
2010: UofL could not get into the top 10 (or top 25) for most of 2009-10, but still had match ups against #3 UK, #4 Nova, #9 WVU, #3 SU, and #1 SU. Only the Villanova (stop calling fouls on every possession!), and Syracuse game (who is #14?) were home games. You may remember that last one. (These are ESPN poll numbers for ease of reference).
2011: A similar story occurred in 2010-11, where UofL was ranked for many games, but could not sneak into the top 10. Still, match ups with #7 Nova, #5 UConn, #7 ND, #6 Pitt, and #4 ND were on the menu. Pitt was the only home game of the bunch though, and UofL won despite a cheerleader kick and the loss of Buckles to a knee injury mid-game.
#4 UofL @ #3 UK. This wasn't a home game, and UofL had lost earlier in the week to #12 Georgetown.
We then dropped out of the top 10 never to return, but still played #2 Syracuse twice and #9 Marquette. Only one of the Syracuse games was at home.
#2 UofL v. #5 Duke. (Neutral site).
#6 Syracuse @ #1 UofL.
So, while I will not claim it is the most important or most meaningful home game by any stretch, Saturday's game belongs in a very elite group of top 10 home match ups. It is one of only 7 such games that have been played since 1980, and only the 2009 UConn game had a higher composite ranking involved. In fact, there appear to be only 2 higher composite ranking games UofL has played in since 1980 (UConn in 2009 and DePaul in 1981-82). And while it is needless to say, this will be the first such regular season match up in which UofL is ranked as the top team in the land.
In short, win, lose, or draw, savor the hell out of Saturday. Big games are becoming fairly common around these parts (VOG) and they won't disappear when we join the ACC. But even among those rare birds, this is something of an ivory-billed woodpecker of a game. Go Cards!