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.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:41 AM EST
Even with the win there are things Duke needs to improve upon, most notably the fact that they’ve committed 36 turnovers over the last two games.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:45 PM EST
Also of note was Ole Miss avoiding what would have been their fourth home loss of the season.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:44 PM EST
Jabari McGhee suffered the injury in Tennessee’s loss to NC State on Wednesday.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:09 PM EST
Branden Dawson is the team’s leading rebounder, as he’s grabbing 8.7 boards per contest.
Dec 18, 2014, 5:59 PM EST
Gaston Diedhiou was denied admission to Minnesota during the summer, and he is now eligible immediately after passing an English proficiency exam.
Dec 18, 2014, 5:08 PM EST
While the focus has been on the Aztecs’ shooting percentages, their ability to find quality looks has been a big reason why they’ve struggled.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:45 PM EST
When do we start counting Duke-UConn as a rivalry?
Dec 18, 2014, 3:33 PM EST
Agau was buried on the Louisville bench with a number of young guys in front of him.
Dec 18, 2014, 2:34 PM EST
A deep look into the early-season struggles of Marcus Paige and whether or not they are fixable.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:48 PM EST
The last two times these teams have squared off in big games, the outcome has been memorable.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:53 AM EST
Three-point shooting might be the key to the Virginia season.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:59 AM EST
She may not be playing anymore, but Lauren’s time with the basketball program has not yet come to an end.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:45 AM EST
David Nwaba scored 11 second-half points to help lead the Mustangs back from a 14-points halftime deficit. Here are two of those points.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Doolin finished the game with 15 points, three assists and no turnovers, and made two huge plays to get UNLV the two-point win over Portland.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:04 AM EST
This is the first win that the American has landed over a ranked team.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:00 AM EST
Dawson’s injury occurred on the same night that freshman Javon Bess made his regular season debut for the Spartans.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:33 PM EST
Copes played in just four games this season due to injury.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:07 PM EST
The best part is that it was very much intentional
Dec 17, 2014, 9:20 PM EST
Delaware State’s Amere May scored more points than anyone in college basketball has this season.
Dec 17, 2014, 8:19 PM EST
With Lavon Long and Brett Bisping now sidelined, the Saints are without their two best rebounders.
- Rebounding, foul shooting help No. 2 Duke make up for 19 turnovers in win over UConn 0
- Michigan State starting forward to miss next two games with non-displaced wrist fracture 0
- Film Session: What’s plaguing Marcus Paige? 1
- Throwback Thursday: UConn ‘Shocks The World’ against Duke (VIDEO) 1
- New Year’s Resolutions: Virginia Cavaliers 1
- Chase for 180: So far, so good for Virginia’s Justin Anderson 0
- New Year’s Resolutions: Kansas Jayhawks 1
- Gregg Marshall writes to Wichita State students after seeing empty seats in student section (PHOTO) (7)
- Report: David Robinson’s son will be preferred walk-on at Duke in 2015-16 (VIDEO) (6)
- West Virginia’s Bob Huggins torches Marshall after coach calls Huggs ‘afraid’ (5)
- Without Alex Poythress, No. 1 Kentucky’s offense looks comfortable in win over No. 21 North Carolina (4)
- Lauren Hill’s playing career over, to become honorary coach (4)