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 20, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
News and notes from the world of college basketball recruiting.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Lorenzo Romar now has a six-man recruiting class for 2015.
Oct 20, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Oklahoma has a chance to be the second-best team in the Big 12, especially if a key player receives a waiver.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The Hawks will have a thin front court this season.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Five new hires that should thrive, and five who may end up struggling.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT
Stevie Clark was dismissed from Oklahoma State after a pair of bizarre incidents involving the police.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Chris Walker sounds pretty funny.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Jaylen Brantley is Maryland’s first commitment in the class.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
After riding the coattails of a pair of Californians, Weber State’s focus on recruiting the state of Texas will pay off this season.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:27 AM EDT
Thon Maker has another mixtape out.
Oct 20, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT
Mudiay has now played two preseason games as a professional.
Oct 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Weber State will be the preseason favorites, but Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Eastern Washington will lead a group of challengers capable of pushing the reigning champs.
Oct 19, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Junior forward Mark Tollefsen may be one of the best dunkers in America.
Oct 19, 2014, 8:49 PM EDT
Chris Jones’ three-pointer in the final seconds gave the White team a 75-72 win over the Red.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
Evan Smotrycz was re-evaluated Saturday after suffering the injury at the end of practice Friday.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT
Johnson last played in live action on January 11, when he suffered a torn ACL in the Panthers’ loss to Virginia.
Oct 19, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
With three of their five seniors being front court players, Colorado State needs to add depth ahead of the 2015-16 season. Sunday’s commitment will help in this area.
Oct 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Alan Williams gets most of the attention nationally, but he won’t be alone as the Gauchos look to rebound from last year’s disappointing finish.
Oct 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
La Salle nabbed a talented combo guard.
Oct 19, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
A more mobile Dakari Johnson could be a scary thought.
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- No longer supplementary pieces, two Texans will lead the way at Weber State 1
- 2014-2015 Season Preview: Weber State won’t lack for challengers in Big Sky 0
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- First Preseason Top 25 poll is out, Kentucky sits at No. 1 (2)
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