Rivalry is defined as competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field. The University of Louisville and University of Kentucky men's basketball teams will renew their ever changing and momentum swapping competition for state and national superiority Saturday afternoon, and both teams, as well as each fan base, are foaming at the mouth with anticipation. It is the best rivalry in amateur sports and has taken on new meaning in recent years as both schools have torched separate paths to college basketball superiority.
Louisville has played one team thus far who will likely find entry into the NCAA tournament field, and to all of our surprise, the Birds took it on the chin. The Cardinals have cakewalked through the first half of the 2013 season, and aside from the Tarheel matchup, have done a good job of looking interested, playing hard and winning convincingly. Rupp Arena, Calipari and an underperforming, disjointed band of kitty cats provide only the second true test of the season and Cardinal Nation waits with true excitement, mixed with increasing nervous enthusiasm.
The pendulum has switched mightily in the early part of this basketball season and Louisville finds itself carrying more pressure coupled with an expectation nationally to win. Twas merely a month and a half ago when the majority of big blue nation was caught up in unreasonable and unearned hype telling every relative and first cousin how the cayuts would go 40-0 and be the best basketball team in the history of any sport. The tone has shifted in Lexington and now, fearing a second straight trip to the NIT, the kitty cats face a must win situation in front of a crowd boiling with uneasiness over the tragic Calipari model. Kentucky fans everywhere are finally realizing and understanding that freshmen, no matter how talented, will not always deliver simply based on recruiting rankings and NBA potential. Calipari's first three teams featured several upper classmen and just as important, a true point guard.
Onward to an analysis of the game to be played. Even before Kentucky managed to lose three times, and struggle mightily with inferior opponents I was convinced that Louisville had a clear cut advantage at spots one through three on the court. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones have combined for 53 assists compared to just 17 turnovers for an impressive 3 to 1 ratio in an average of 21 minutes per game. The Harrison twins have achieved 70 assists with 48 turnovers in an average of 29 minutes per game. Russ Smith is arguably the best player in the game, and undeniably the best guard. Russ has amassed 60 assists so far this season with only 29 turnovers and he is playing just 26 minutes per contest. Wayne Blackshear is still not the All-American we wish him to be, but his size and athleticism has had its increasing moments in recent weeks and will be invaluable on the defensive end to slow down James Young. Blackshear coupled with a slowly healing Luke Hancock provide the Cardinals with a solid advantage at the three spot based on experience, shooting ability, basketball IQ and a grit and determination not possessed by the youthful kitty cats.
For UofL to emerge victorious our guards must continue their solid and stellar play, but this game will be decided by the front court showdowns and by the officiating. Julius Randle is Kentucky's best player, most dominant player, and certainly the only freshman to live up to his red carpet rollout. He averages a double double and so far this year has seen a double or triple team every time down the floor. Randle is not Michael Jordan, he is not Lebron James and he certainly isn't Jabari Parker either. Randle has serious flaws and the two biggest are ball security and attitude. He has turned the ball over 40 times, Russdiculous, Rozier and Jones have 46 turnovers combined, and they are primary ball handlers. Not only does Randle play sloppy and selfishly, but he pouts and shows his frustration on the court and on the bench. It is never a positive when your best player is also your most dramatic. HOF Rick knows these facts and will exploit this by instructing our boys to simply play sound defense, beat him to the spot and put your hands straight up. Randle will get his, but if we can get him to continue his sloppy play, his double double will be negated.
Randle is a force and certainly a fantastic player, but to overlook Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell and argue they cannot hold their own is simply an ignorant opinion. Chane Behanan dominated the paint in a National Championship game and Harrell's never-ending energy and rim rattling attitude are enough to keep the Kentucky front court in check. The two must stay out of foul trouble, and they must hit 60% or better from the free throw line.
The five spot is the only area where Kentucky possesses a solid advantage. Willie Cauley-Stein is a good basketball player, seven feet tall, athletic and mobile. His defensive presence is usually felt more than his offense, but he is probably a better three point shooter than free throw shooter. Mangok and Van Treese have their hands full and much like with Randle, solid and sound defense is required, keeping their body between Stein and the basket will aid Louisville's cause tremendously.
The University of Louisville is starved for a quality opponent and it is good fortune that the Cards can kick off the real part of the season with an impressive victory over their instate rival inside of Rupp Arena. Recent success has been relatively mirrored by each program, but the paths taken to college basketball dominance and dynasty potential could not be more distinct. Louisville is celebrating an era of success not seen in decades, but more importantly this city and this program have embraced a team first, school first, city first attitude. Current Cardinals and some of our latest graduates will be remembered as legends and fan favorites for years to come. The University of Louisville is the envy of college basketball; the Cardinals are defending national champions and enjoy a roster ready to make a repeat run at the title. Win or lose Saturday, our team, our coaches and our fans know we do things the right way and there has never been a better time to be a Louisville Cardinal.
Cards 77 Cats 66
All Hail UofL !!