1. Patrick Patterson is the Wildcat Louisville fans should be most fearful of.
I absolutely love Patterson's game (please go pro) and think there's little doubt that he's the best freshman in the SEC, but he's been getting his all season and Kentucky is still 6-6. Patterson will hit double figures, but the player U of L fans should be most worried about is whichever one gets hot from the outside. This matchup looks an awful lot like the one we saw a little over 12 months ago, and the difference in that game was one player - Jodie Meeks - who was able to knock down open shots from the outside.
It could certainly be Meeks who gets hot again this year, or it could very well be one of the embattled senior guards. The thing about Crawford and Bradley is that while they're both certainly capable of going 0-for-10 and turning the ball over seven times, they also each have the potential to go off for 28 or 30 on any given night, and likely will once or twice this season. I'm not embarking on any uncharted prognosticating territory when I say that the team that shoots better from the outside will likely win this afternoon, but I do believe it's a true statement, and if Meeks gets good looks or if Crawford or Bradley have one of their once every two months games then the Cards are going to be in serious trouble.
2. Louisville needs Edgar Sosa to have a breakout game in order to win.
I know I said I was ready to move on after the UC game, but Derrick Jasper's length (/Bilas) and on-ball pressure will very likely make Andre McGee's effectiveness extremely limited, meaning U of L is going to need Sosa on the floor in order for the offense to have any type of flow. Gillispie is strictly a man-to-man guy, and if Louisville doesn't have a guard on the floor who can penetrate against Jasper or at least force him to respect their dribble, then the Cards are going to be able to accomplish very little in the halfcourt.
Of course there is the small issue of my definition of a "breakout game" and Edgar's being more different than Donald and Chen Chen on Orangutan Island (it's an amazing show, I'm dead serious). Rick Pitino alluded to it in the pregame press conference, and Sosa himself all but admitted it with his own statements, but Edgar feels like he'll get over the hump after he has a good shooting night and drops 22 or 24 on someone. But if he played 25-30 minutes today, scored six points, dished out five assists, made less than two turnovers, and gave a consistent effort on the defensive end, I would consider it an enormous leap forward for both the team and for Sosa.
The "Sosa returns to Rupp for the first time since last March" angle has been the one played up by the media this week, and I'm extremely anxious (read: terrified) to see how he responds to that. Louisville needs him tomorrow perhaps more than they have in any other game this season, and if he doesn't step up and finally look like a point guard determined (or at least mildly devoted) to seeing his team win, then hope will have taken one more shaky step towards the ledge.
3. Kentucky has an enormous advantage with the game being played at Rupp Arena.
Obviously fans on both sides would rather have the game played at their place than 70 miles to the east or west, but this Louisville team has played its best basketball on the road for the last two seasons. U of L's two biggest wins in 2006-07 came at Pittsburgh and at Marquette, and this team's most significant win to date was a 20-point victory over 9-3 UNLV in Sin City.
This group hasn't enjoyed the comforts or advantages of Freedom Hall like some in the past as six of their 14 losses over the past two seasons have come at home, including two of their four this season. And while Rupp Arena is certainly a very intimidating place to enter for any guest, both 6-9 Gardner-Webb and 6-9 San Diego have left Lexington with non-conference wins this season.
4. This game means more to Louisville than it does to Kentucky.
This game is about as far from the original Dream Game as a U of L/UK matchup has been in the last 25 years, but the one undeniable similarity is that this one is also more important for the Cards. It's true that both teams began the season in the top 25, but most people around the country believed in October that UK was in for another down season while U of L was almost universally viewed as a legitimate Final Four contender. Three months later and both teams have been colossal disappointments, but there appears to still be hope for only one of them.
Kentucky is not going to make the NCAA Tournament, it's not debatable. Louisville's postseason pulse has developed a funky twitch, but at least it's still there. A Wildcat loss will bring a disastrous non-con stretch to a merciful halt and Big Blue nation can hope for a solid conference run. A Cardinal loss will be another huge left hook to the team's tournament resume, and will send a team already reeling from a stunning home loss to Cincinnati into a death spiral as they prepare to embark on a brutal Big East schedule.
A Kentucky win would garner Gillispie some much-needed fan support, it might force some of the still unsure upperclassmen to buy into what their new coach is selling, and it would give a team with still a solid amount of potential a huge morale boost as they prepare to compete in what appears to be a relatively vulnerable SEC. Make no mistake about it, a win would be enormous for the Cats, but a Louisville loss would mean even more. Another loss in the most important (emotionally) game of the season could very well be the spin that turns an extremely anticipated season into a full-on disaster.
Oh, and there's also the little bit about Kentucky having won three straight in the series. If Louisville loses then Juan Palacios will become the first four-year player to not taste victory in this rivalry since 1994. Of course if he doesn't get poked in the eye in '04 then maybe it's a different story, but that does tie in with statement number five.
5. Juan Palacios's goggles aren't cool.
So false it's not even funny. More false than saying that Oyoy was immune to an early death because of his elevated forest skills (seriously, Orangtuan Island, Animal Planet, you won't be disappointed).
6. Michael Porter plays basketball exactly like me.
I attempted to deny this the first time somebody made the comparison, but I can't any longer. The shaky handles, the inexcusable turnovers, the leaving the right arm up a little too long after a made three, it's all there.
7. Kentucky has no one to match up with Earl Clark.
Patterson will take Padgett or Caracter when they're in the game, but regardless of who Gillispie chucks on the floor to play the four, they aren't going to have either the size or the athleticism to keep E5 from doing what he wants to do with the ball. There have been some questions over the last 24 hours about Clark's availability, but assuming he does play this afternoon, he should be the biggest difference maker on the court.
8. I will throw something during the game.
I've come along way since the famed lemon throw at a packed Damon's in Dayton during the '04 C-USA Tourney, but this is still going to happen. Regardless of where I am, if we end up winning by 20, if we end up losing by 20, if there doesn't appear to be a capable object in the room, something will be picked up by my hand and displaced forcefully at some point during tomorrow's game. This will end some day, but I'm simply not there yet.
9. The losing fans will graciously concede defeat and admit that their respective program is vastly inferior.
I asked politely for this admission after the '03 game in Rupp, and that's the short story of how I lost my right eye and 2/3 of my respiratory system.