Throughout the country and all over the world, girls and boys ages one to 99 are nervously awaiting Christmas morning, Jolly St. Nick, a new toy stash, and the one last can of who hash. While good enough for everyone else, the state of Kentucky turns its attention away from joyful reunions and friendly conversations to a bitter civil war that makes the Grinch's original heart appear three sizes too big.
It is the most wonderful time of year where every Louisville and Kentucky fan proudly quotes Clark W. Griswold when encountering a member of the rival fan base, "hey kids, look, a deer."
The Cardinals have been on the wrong end of this rivalry ever since Margo and Todd Calipari moved to the Bluegrass and if I could ask for just one thing this year, aside from making it through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, I wish that Rick Pitino continues Louisville's restoration and topples the Wildcats in their famous fortress, Rupp Arena.
A few weeks ago my confidence was sky high that the Cardinals would walk into Rupp and trounce Kentucky in similar fashion to 2008. Injuries and slow recoveries have halted that thinking and even with UK struggling, Louisville is no favorite come Saturday. The Cardinals have only won in Lexington (when playing UK) four times in the last 30 years. Pitino has only beaten Calipari once since his ascension to the Blue Throne and Coach Pitino consistently downplays the importance of the game.
Pitino is correct to a degree. This game is meaningless to the season as a whole and has little to no implication on seeding or end of year aspirations. However, this type of thinking has played a major role in why Louisville has only one win in the series since 2009. In my ideal world, the matchup would be the last regular season game of the college basketball year. Both teams would be or should be peaking, the coverage and build up would be enormous, tournament seeding would be hanging in the balance, and it would make it difficult for the committee to pair the teams in the same region. I do enjoy the game over the holidays, but it is only meaningful for the fans. After a month passes no one cares and then we are submitted and dragged through two months of Duke/Carolina propaganda. Matt Bevin promised a lot on the campaign trail in 2015, maybe he can amend the law on the books and make the teams play for St. Patrick instead of St. Nick?
In case you are just now tuning in, Louisville has a good basketball team that can shoot, pass, block shots, and offensive rebound. Kentucky has a team loaded with paper talent and big men soft as melted butter. Louisville will have two of their best big men on the bench Saturday afternoon, Mangok being the only player on the Cardinals' roster that has ever played Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Deng Adel is slowly returning from six weeks off and the injury bug will play a major role this weekend. Both fan bases are already preparing for a loss. If Louisville wins, the common response will be that Kentucky is just learning right now and will be better at the end of the year. If Louisville loses, it is perfectly acceptable to blame it on the missing pieces. The national media will not take away much from this contest due to the injuries and the fact that their precious Kentucky is actually vastly overrated and struggling.
A victory this Saturday will be for the fans and the confidence of this newly assembled band of misfit toys. Lee, Lewis, Mitchell, Adel, and Stockman have never played in a game of this magnitude and if Louisville is to win, the oldest and wisest players on the floor will have to carry the Cardinals to victory.
Snider, Lewis, and Lee account for nine of the team's 15 assists per game, 50% of the scoring, and 50% of the team's field goal attempts. This three headed monster of a backcourt, along with the blossoming Donovan Mitchell, must school the Kentucky backcourt in the art of true teamwork and earned accolades. Lee could solidify his candidacy for national player of the year if he showcases his talents and scoring ability and Louisville cannot win if Damion disappoints.
The referees will certainly be a storyline, they always are, and Onuaku has already been whistled for two fouls. The Cardinals will have to weather some storms and haymakers from the talented and young Wildcats, but in the end, the better team will win.
It is the most wonderful time of the year. A time to celebrate family, friends, new beginnings, and old traditions. Enjoy your roast beast and figgy pudding, but remember what this time of year is really all about. Kentucky Basketball has ruled this state for long enough. Do not be alarmed Saturday night when out on the roof there arises such a clatter. Do not spring from your bed to see what is the matter. However, if you do move like a flash, tear open the shutter, and throw up the sash, the only thing that will appear to your wondering eyes will be the glorious sight and sounds of endless big blue cries. Cards 79, Cats 66. Merry Christmas ya filthy animals!
All Hail UofL !!