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.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
Having stated their intention of appealing the ruling in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, the NCAA filed a notice of appeal on Thursday.
Aug 22, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT
Five-star center Tyler Davis becomes Texas A&M’s first commitment, and he’s an important addition for Billy Kennedy.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Austin Hatch, who saw his first action in a Michigan uniform on Saturday, discussed his return to the court on The Today Show.
Aug 22, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Upon completion, Hinkle Fieldhouse will have a brand new look while preserving the building’s storied past.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT
The conference tournament will now span five days, with there being a doubleheader on Wednesday, March 11 (11 seed vs. 14 seed, 12 seed vs. 13 seed).
Aug 21, 2014, 11:06 PM EDT
More than two months after his older brother left the football program, Mickey Mitchell has decided to decommit from Ohio State.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT
6-foot-7 forward Kevin Puryear was a point forward for his high school team last season.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
The Toronto Blue Jays aren’t thrilled with Creighton filing an application to trademark its logo, which was unveiled last September.
Aug 21, 2014, 7:21 PM EDT
Rick Barnes entered last season on nearly every pundit’s “hot seat” rankings, only to turn things around and win 24 games.
Aug 21, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT
Mo’ne Davis is currently focused on winning a LLWS title, but down the line she really wants to run the point at UConn.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:37 PM EDT
Aaron McKie ranks sixth on Temple’s all-time scoring list, and he played 13 seasons in the NBA.
Aug 21, 2014, 3:57 PM EDT
UConn’s league schedule is only getting weaker. They need to beef up in the non-conference.
Aug 21, 2014, 3:19 PM EDT
A quick explanation of why John Calipari can be a great coach without being a great x’s-and-o’s coach.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Do you agree with that ranking?
Aug 21, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT
But would hiring Cremins be a way to get Anthony Johnson the job?
Aug 21, 2014, 10:55 AM EDT
It is absolutely hilarious.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:34 AM EDT
Five points down, 2.8 seconds left, and victorious?
Aug 21, 2014, 9:34 AM EDT
Rozier will be the most important player for Louisville this season.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:46 PM EDT
Redshirting helped Eli Carter as he looks to recover from a broken leg suffered in 2013, but he still isn’t at the level he was prior to the injury.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:59 PM EDT
According to reports Dominic Woodson will be enrolling at Tennessee in time for the start of classes Thursday.
- John Calipari can be a great coach with being an x’s-and-o’s mastermind 4
- Louisville’s Terry Rozier is ready for his bigger role this season 1
- Expectations have changed for Nebraska after surprise run to 2014 NCAA tournament 0
- John Calipari on whether Kentucky will use platoons this season: ‘I think so’ 3
- College Basketball Talk’s Recruiting Roundup 1
- Austin Hatch, who twice survived plane crashes, plays for Michigan 0
- Kentucky loses final game of Bahamas tour, Jack Martinez hits game-winner for Dominican Republic (VIDEO) 0
- John Calipari calls Mike Francesa’s radio show to complain about a critique (AUDIO) (7)
- Rupp Arena ranked college hoops’ best home venue, Cameron Indoor 31st? (6)
- Northern Illinois unveils its new basketball floor (PHOTO) (5)
- Former Vanderbilt player releasing book exposing sex, drugs and parties in college basketball (4)
- Indiana lands a final piece in their 2014 recruiting class (4)