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.
Oct 25, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT
The intro video to Tom Izzo’s memorable entrance at “Michigan State Madness” Friday night.
Oct 25, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
While head coach Gib Arnold released a statement saying that the school had yet to receive a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, the administration is considering the option of self-imposing sanctions.
Oct 25, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Byron Samuels already had a tough rebuilding job in front of him as a result of Florida A&M being hit with a postseason ban for low APR numbers.
Oct 25, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Mike Young has seen the Wofford men’s basketball program come a long way since he first joined the coaching staff back in 1989.
Oct 25, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
A three-star commit on Friday night, a top-70 pledge on Saturday morning. This has been a big weekend for first-year head coach Mike Rhoades.
Oct 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
A story from Syracuse.com says the first-year big man does up to 500 pushups daily.
Oct 25, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT
This is Danny Manning’s third commitment this month, first in the Class of 2016.
Oct 25, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Davidson is gone, but that does not mean that the SoCon will be a bad basketball league.
Oct 25, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
Only three programs remain in contention for the nation’s top rated point guard.
Oct 25, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Pretty good dunk, but still not better than Chris Mack’s entrance.
Oct 25, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
The Hall of Fame coach makes his first comments, several days after Kenneth Wainstein released his report.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:55 PM EDT
Tom Izzo does it again. Add it to the long line of amazing midnight madness entrances.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:24 PM EDT
Chris Mack and his daughters performed ‘Paul Revere’ at Musketeer Madness on Friday night.
Oct 24, 2014, 8:05 PM EDT
The Wisconsin forward is likely to miss a week or two
Oct 24, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
Ed Cooley adds a 6-foot-8 forward to the Friars’ front court.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
The former Virginia Tech Hokie will be a big boost to SMU’s perimeter.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Manhattan and head coach Steve Masiello had some issues to address this spring, but thanks in part to their departed senior class the Jaspers are well-positioned to once again contend in the MAAC.
Oct 24, 2014, 5:05 PM EDT
One of the nation’s highly-touted bigs is closer to making a decision after eliminating two programs from his list.
Oct 24, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT
Jones became the second coach to lead LSU to postseason appearances in his first two years this past spring.
- 2014-15 Southern Conference Preview: Wofford, Chattanooga favored in Davidson’s absence 0
- Manhattan’s returnees look to build on the achievements of last season’s senior class 0
- 2014-15 Season Preview: Rivals Iona, Manhattan have company in race to the top of the MAAC 1
- Top 25 Countdown: No. 11 Villanova Wildcats 0
- 2014-15 Season Preview: Kentucky’s loaded rotation leads nation’s best front courts 0
- Cameron Payne didn’t expect to fill Isaiah Canaan’s void at Murray State, but he did 0
- 2014-15 Season Preview: The Top 20 Perimeter Attacks 0
- UNC investigation states bogus classes pushed by academic counselors to athletes (7)
- Report: Texas plans to start paying their athletes $10,000 stipend (4)
- 2014-2015 Season Preview: College Basketball’s Top 13 Dunkers (VIDEOS) (3)
- Texas A&M lands another five-star center, has loaded 2015 recruiting class (2)
- Florida guard cleared to return to practice (2)