Mar 26, 2012, 9:02 AM EDT
Get ready for the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry to rise to a level usually only reserved for the likes of Duke-North Carolina, Yankees-Red Sox or Celtics-Lakers.
That’s what happens when the nation’s most devoted state for college hoops – sorry, Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina – places its marquee programs into the game’s biggest stage. It’d be enough simply to have the Cardinals and Wildcats both in New Orleans. But playing each other with a spot in the title game on the line? There’s never been a rivalry game at this level before.
That’s basketball mania.
“It’s what everybody wanted, I guess, in terms of the public and the media,” UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “This is what you guys live for, so this gives you plenty to write about all week. They’ve got great players. It’s great for our state in terms of the recognition it brings to our state. Two great basketball programs, two great coaches.
Ah, yes. The coaches. That amplifies things a bit more.
Rick Pitino used to coach at Kentucky. Now he’s at Louisville, which doesn’t sit well with the fans. John Calipari spent the last three years winning games and charming Big Blue Nation, both of which go hand in hand. The two spent the summer taking shots at each other, all of which simply stokes the fires of one of the games’ already heated rivalries.
So what’s up with these two? There’s a history between the two coaches that’s difficult to detail everything, but here’s a helpful anecdote from David Jones of The Patriots-News regarding a 1992 game between Massachusetts and Kentucky. Calipari, coaching the less-talented Minutemen would eventually lose the Sweet 16 games, but it wasn’t without Calipari doing everything he could to cajole the refs.
Finally, during a lull in play, Calipari still barking, Pitino yelled down the sideline at him to get his attention: “John!” Calipari turned. And Pitino mouthed with a pleading gesture, “Shut uuupp.” It wasn’t derogatory or condescending at all but more advice from a respected older brother, like: You dope, you already let this sawed-off old ref take the game from you. Don’t make it worse by getting tossed. It’s over. Just chill out.
Perhaps that’s why Pitino said recently “we don’t send each other Christmas cards,” because there’s no need. They coach at rival schools. There’s no need to be friendly.
But that also creates an interesting dynamic for the next few days. Kentucky’s the favorite. A big favorite. A loss to Louisville would be one of the biggest kicks to the … well, it’d hurt.
“There will be people at Kentucky that will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us,” Pitino said. “You’ve got to watch. They’ve got to put the fences up on the bridges. There will be people consumed by Louisville.”
Most notably Calipari.
The man who has now taken three different schools to a total of four Final Fours — yes, I know two of them have been vacated, but whatever — did a nice job of deflecting the spotlight that’ll shine on him and Pitino this week, and he said over and over again Sunday that he’s looking at this game no differently than any other.
But that’s impossible. And the truth is that, on some level, this matchup that is a sportswriter’s dream has to be Calipari’s worst nightmare.
And every Kentucky fan.
No team wants to lose in the Final Four. Especially not a favorite from Kentucky, featuring the best roster the program’s seen since its famed 1996 squad. And especially not to its rival.
That’s how you stoke a rivalry
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.
Sep 22, 2014, 7:47 PM EDT
Florida State added a big man in 2015 to go along with its three talented perimeter threats.
Sep 22, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
The Wolfpack have some new threads for the upcoming season.
Sep 22, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Creighton picked up a point guard in the 2015 class on Monday.
CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: Nebraska invades Chicago, Wake Forest lands big recruit, Wisconsin gets another system fit
Sep 22, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
News and notes from around the world of college basketball recruiting.
Sep 22, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
The image places alongside a column on the recent USA Basketball debate caused an uproar in the Bluegrass State.
Sep 22, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
Kevin Stallings’ young team will play away from Nashville three times before the start of SEC play, with two of those games being played on a neutral court.
Sep 22, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
The St. Anthony product is a valuable recruit for each of the remaining schools, as they all have the eventual loss of current seniors to account for.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:39 PM EDT
Having landed commitments from three forwards, the Flyers added a piece for their backcourt on Monday.
Sep 22, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
The Simeon HS forward officially visited Nebraska this weekend, and both of his parents attended the school as well.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:26 AM EDT
Fans have three different designs from which to choose, with the winning option scheduled to be revealed next Monday.
Sep 21, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
The Tigers, who won 25 games last season, landed their first commitment in the Class of 2015 Sunday night.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
With both Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams being seniors, Charlotte needed to add a perimeter player in 2015.
Sep 21, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT
URI head coach Dan Hurley landed his second 2015 commitment Sunday evening.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:25 PM EDT
Danny Manning finally has his first 2015 commitment and the player’s a very important one with regard to the future of the program.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT
The Vikings have added some depth to their front court for the 2015-16 season.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:14 PM EDT
The Shockers won’t lack for capable leaders this season, and their newcomers have followed the lead of those veterans in the weight room.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
A good read on Colorado State’s new senior transfer, Antwan Scott, overcoming family obstacles while still succeeding on the court.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Washington State picked up a commitment from a 2015 forward on Sunday.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT
A former UC Irvine forward could make his NFL debut on Sunday with the Arizona Cardinals.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:43 AM EDT
Wisconsin picked up a 2015 commitment on Sunday morning.
- Florida State gets commitment from 7-foot-4 2015 center 0
- CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: Nebraska invades Chicago, Wake Forest lands big recruit, Wisconsin gets another system fit 0
- Four-star forward becomes Nebraska’s third 2015 commitment 0
- Wake Forest lands four-star point guard in Class of 2015 0
- CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: Boston College, Illinois, LSU have big visitors 0
- Kentucky’s John Calipari offers his thoughts on USA Basketball critiques 0
- Coach K responds to USA Basketball criticism during press conference 2
- Jim Boeheim calls Yahoo’s Coach K story ‘completely off-base’ (8)
- Jalen Rose believes Chris Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan (5)
- Bo Ryan hits golf balls into Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium (PHOTO) (4)
- Watch Kentucky fans sprinting to line up for Big Blue Madness tickets (VIDEO) (2)
- Coach K responds to USA Basketball criticism during press conference (2)