The Louisville/Kentucky rivalry is the best in college basketball. Elevated in recent years by the coaching rivalry, stark differences in program values and beliefs, and consistent dominance of the national scene, Louisville and Kentucky continue to define basketball elite.
All that said, the Cardinals are 1-6 against Kentucky since Lexington named its new pope, and for the fans, being on the wrong end of this rivalry has been the equivalent of nurturing an ever growing infectious wound. There's no doubt that a win Saturday would go a long way in shedding the stigma. Do the fans a favor, Cards, and offer us some relief.
Playing this game in December brings no closure and no answers; it is merely a game for the fans. I believe it should be the last regular season game each year. Let the game have seeding implications, lets watch them battle when both should be peaking for the tournament. The fans go all in for one day in December and then the game is largely forgotten over the next two months as conference games define a team's season. This game should mean something more than just bragging rights to a fan base and if they started playing in March the committee would be less obligated to put the programs on the same side of the bracket.
Since Calipari's arrival, Kentucky has been the better team in every matchup but two. Sadly, Louisville is 1-1 in those games with the most painful loss coming in last year's sweet 16. The UofL/UK games during the regular season are often hard to watch and rarely deliver top level basketball. Foul trouble, abysmal officiating, physical confrontations, and poor shooting usually define the regular season games. Do I expect the 2014/2015 version to be different? No, but it certainly has a chance.
Louisville and Kentucky are meeting during the season as undefeated teams for the first time in the rivalry's storied past. Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite to win the game, the championship, and have their faces etched into Mount Rushmore. Calipari's slime and propaganda have taken over ESPN, and I am afraid if Kentucky loses ESPN may self-destruct. No one is giving the Cardinals a chance, but this Louisville team is one of the best Pitino has assembled.
The Cardinals are rarely a thing of beauty before February, and even though this team has had its moments of subpar play, they continue to win while new faces continue to shine. Louisville will once again be a hell of a basketball team before the tournament as Mahmoud, Aaron, Onuaku, Snider, Mangok, Levitch, and Gill continue to develop. With that being said, Louisville is good now, and aside from Kentucky, one of the best teams in the country.
Saturday offers a lot of storylines and certainties, and I will begin with Harrell and Rozier. Am I biased? Of course, but I would probably find a lot of neutral people to back up my assertions that Montrezl will be the best player on the floor, and Terry will be the best guard. Harrell dominated Stein, Lee, and Dakari Johnson a year ago, and had the refs not fouled him out on invisible calls, Louisville would have advanced. Kentucky will try its best to neutralize Harrell, but as we all know the kid's effort and enthusiasm are unstoppable. Rozier is a pro and has been our most clutch player in every close game this season. He steps up when needed most and is the coolest Louisville player since Milt Wagner. When the time is right, Terry will always be the man.
Louisville has Rozier and Harrell, but Kentucky has nine players that are head and shoulders above the rest of the Cardinal roster. Not only will Kentucky be taller at almost every position, but their star ratings and draft potential surpass anything UofL has seen, or will see this season. Kentucky is a good team with potential to be unstoppable. Louisville is a good team with potential to be great, and Kentucky will stand in the way tomorrow and in April.
There are two keys to the game for Louisville, outside shooting and Chris Jones. If Kentucky is hitting threes Louisville will need more than miracle to achieve victory, and the Cardinals do not stand a chance if their outside shot isn't falling. As I wrote previously, and as we all know, Louisville can only reach their peak with Jones playing like a real point guard. Less dribbling, more passing, awesome defense, and only taking the open shots. If Jones plays well, Rozier, Wayne, and Harrell will have the openings to dissect UK's stifling defense, but that is a big if.
Louisville and Kentucky will have some unsung heroes tomorrow, the Sphinx could be an x factor, and Holiday Food Wayne could finally deliver on a big stage. Kentucky should win, but the game should be one of the most fun and entertaining the rivalry has ever offered. The Cardinals can win, and have the ability to challenge the Kentucky titans. I am predicting an upset and Montrezl Harrell solidifying his place as the best player in America. I ask for no fights, limited, whistles, a 75-70 victory, and a partridge in a pear tree.
All Hail UofL !!