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Battle of the Bluegrass day has arrived: Go Louisville, beat Kentucky

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

First, just a couple of quick questions for those reading......

Do you currently live or have lived in Kentucky at some point in your adult life?

Do you like sports, particularly basketball?

Do you have a pulse?

If you answered "yes" to the three aforementioned inquiries, then you know all too well that this is the one day on virtually every current and former Kentuckian's personal calendar where a college sports event takes precedence over literally all things excluding life and death.

Tonight, Christmas comes a little early. The Dream Game will once again be played giving us all as true fanatics a moment to discuss city school vs. state school, ACC vs. SEC, Pitino vs Calapari, and of course, Louisville vs. Kentucky.

This game, as has been the case since the two schools locked horns in a fight to the death in the 1983 overtime thriller, carries the weight and clout of a national holiday. Forget the local media, just ask any outside journalist or reporter and they'll collectively confirm it, without hesitation. Tonight's tip off in the KFC Yum Center will be no different in terms of importance, relevancy and annual bragging rights.

The story lines, as usual, are endless so take your pick. Kentucky will enter this game an undeniable hot pick, despite Vegas opening the line Tuesday afternoon with the Cards as a two point favorite (has since been bet down and back up). Led by yet another refurbished group of blue-chip five star freshmen, John Calapari looks to maintain his stronghold and mastery of UofL and Rick Pitino since leaving Memphis and taking the head job in Lexington in 2009.

Louisville, unlike Kentucky, will enter this game with more questions than answers. Can the Cards score enough points to win? Who if anyone will finally step forward in a leadership role and put everyone else on his back? Will the Cards be able to slow Kentucky down enough to avoid getting into a track meet and potentially getting run on its home court?

I feel certain that most are already familiar with whom the key players are in this contest. Thus, I see no reason to spend any extended amount of time rehashing the rosters. In fact, it's pretty simple. Kentucky is loaded....again. Shocker,right?

De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are begrudgingly the best back court of the Calapari era and will present a multitude of problems Speed kills as does a player who makes contested 20 footers on call. The rest of UK's roster presents match-up uncertainties for UofL and virtually anyone else they will play at damn near every position. So if you're a team looking to beat UK then you'd better pack a lunch and bring your "A" game, nothing less.

And lest one were to think that I had a soft spot for UK, don't. I just call it the way I see it. With that, allow me to also vocalize that this UofL basketball team is not exactly chopped liver. Not only does it have talent but it has unprecedented length and size. The Cards also have their home court in their back pocket. Of course, that won't matter near as much if the folks in the lower arena who complain about fellow fans standing and cheering don't grow a conscience and decide to join in on the fun.

So with two stacked lineups, two Hall of Fame coaches, a pair of top 10 teams, a national spotlight and a game that carries more weight than a dump truck, what does this spectacle really boil down to after one sifts through all the predictions, all the blog entries interviews? My amateur and temporary non-rose colored glasses opinion is that it comes down to which squad gets out of the gate faster, which head coach most effectively works the officials for advantageous whistles late and lastly, who shoots the ball better.

If there was ANY knock on this Kentucky team coming into this season, it was that they didn't have any knockdown shooters. Malik Monk has put those hot takes to bed up to this point. The good news for Card Nation is that I also cannot envision or imagine Monk going off for another near 50 point performance against UofL's match-up zone like he did Saturday in Vegas. As for the Cards, they have shown repeatedly that their Achilles heel is perimeter shooting, or lack thereof. In order to match Kentucky's overall offensive onslaught, the Cards will HAVE to shoot it well this evening. After all, scoring points is the key to winning at the end of the day and I predict they'll have to put at least 75 or more to stop the bleeding in the rivalry.

One can talk all day about the players from both schools but the side story here for me personally is Coach Rick Pitino and his approach toward the series vs UK. I recently read an article that examined the notion that Pitino no longer views the game against UK as a "must win" but alternatively has learned to enjoy the rivalry by using it as a learning tool for his teams.

Side note: I get it, losing now is better than in March. But can we pick another team to consistently lose to?

Despite the fact that no regular season game is truly a "must win" state of affairs, the game versus Kentucky comes damn close. It is debatable that the outcome may matter more to the fans than the coaches or players. Selfishly, I don't want that to be the case. Win or lose, I want my coach to approach a venomous rivalry game that directly impacts an entire state with the attitude that losing is NOT an option.

Make no bones about it, Rick Pitino has earned his spot in Springfield, MA. His resume at UofL, while not flawless, stacks up against the best in the country during that same time span. He holds claim to the last banner to be hung in this state. He's a proven commodity. He has great suits.

But, despite some quality, resonating wins here and there, the last three years have produced modest results in terms of expected success and a boat load in the area of disappointment and heart ache. Losing to UK and Calapari in the Sweet 16 game in which the Cards led for 39 minutes was excruciating. I'm still not over it. Coming up one free throw short of making a 10th Final Four the following year was disheartening and salt to an open wound. A scandal and a self-imposed NCAA Tournament ban in 2016 (just end already) was unthinkable.

And through it all, the UofL fan base has remained loyal and steadfast even amidst an ongoing NCAA investigation. I don't think Card fans are asking for too much given the circumstances, just for Pitino and his teams to regain its footing in this head to head matchup. Losing to UK has gotten old and nauseating. Frankly it sucks. And a win might be the only thing to get the loss to UK in football's horrid taste out of my mouth.

So here's to hoping the Cards are up for the challenge tonight. And, here's to believing that Pitino & his players are able to provide Card fans with an early holiday gift....the gift that keeps on giving year round.....a win over Kentucky.

Go Cards! Beat UK.