Mar 26, 2012, 9:02 AM EST
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.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:42 PM EST
Here’s a rundown from Friday night’s action.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:37 PM EST
What do you think? Watch the play and let us know in the comment section.
Nov 28, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
Just another alley-oop for Slam Thompson.
Nov 28, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
The Badgers were led by Frank Kaminsky with 17 points; 13 of which came in the second half.
Nov 28, 2014, 5:58 PM EST
Here are the teams competing in the top early-season tournament.
Nov 28, 2014, 5:55 PM EST
The 2014 Barclays Center Classic will air a doubleheader on Friday night, live on NBC Sports Network. Coverage on NBCSN begins at 7 p.m. EST
Nov 28, 2014, 4:54 PM EST
Butler, picked seventh in the Big East, left the Battle 4 Atlantis with a pair of important victories.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:55 PM EST
Kansas scored 82 points in their win over Tennessee but they also committed 16 turnovers as they continue to figure each other out offensively.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:07 PM EST
Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert both suffered injuries last weekend that have kept them sidelined.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:25 AM EST
Dez Wells made just five of his 20 field goal attempts against Iowa State. This injury may be the reason why.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:24 AM EST
Providence better focus on Yale and not get caught looking forward to their game at No. 1 Kentucky on Sunday.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:01 AM EST
North Carolina did a better job on the boards while also forcing 23 turnovers in their win over UCLA.
Nov 27, 2014, 9:53 PM EST
Penn State will return to the school’s original colors- black and pink- for their next two games.
Nov 27, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
This is hilarious.
Nov 27, 2014, 6:08 PM EST
Koenig and Dukan combined to score 18 points in the second half for the second-ranked Badgers.
Nov 27, 2014, 5:24 PM EST
Khwan Fore’s averaging 7.5 minutes per game in two appearances this season.
Nov 27, 2014, 3:54 PM EST
This might have been the best feast week game of all time.
Nov 27, 2014, 12:56 PM EST
Perkins was kicked in the face by a Georgia player.
Nov 27, 2014, 11:19 AM EST
It’s not just football that’s on today.
Nov 27, 2014, 3:14 AM EST
A lot is riding on this season for St. John’s. Can they consistently be the ‘grown up’ team they claimed to be on Wednesday night?
- Wisconsin wins 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis with 69-56 win over Oklahoma 0
- Right wrist injury to sideline Maryland senior wing four weeks 0
- Bronson Koenig, Duje Dukan step forward in No. 2 Wisconsin’s win over Georgetown 0
- St. John’s seniors say they ‘grew up’ against Minnesota, but have they? 1
- The little things made a big difference in No. 3 Arizona’s win over No. 15 San Diego State 1
- Butler upsets No. 5 North Carolina in Battle 4 Atlantis opener 2
- If No. 12 Villanova doesn’t have a star on their roster, no one told JayVaughn Pinkston 0
- Villanova’s win is evidence of why VCU may have peaked as a basketball program (14)
- Rick Pitino on blow out win: ‘We played four white guys and an Egyptian’ (14)
- Michigan’s John Beilein rips ESPN for late tip time during Tuesday’s loss (13)
- Penn State unveils new uniforms for next two games (6)
- College Basketball Talk’s latest top 25: Kentucky reigns, but how far will Kansas, Florida slide? (5)