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.
May 29, 2015, 4:03 PM EDT
With Fred Hoiberg being tabbed the frontrunner for the Bulls job, Hornacek’s name has come up as a possible replacement in Ames.
May 29, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
Jones will undergo surgery June 1 in Baltimore.
May 29, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT
The last time these two teams met at a neutral site was back in 1992.
May 29, 2015, 12:54 PM EDT
Kansas also has plans to host former Providence center Paschal Chukwu in early June.
May 29, 2015, 9:36 AM EDT
Dai-Jon Parker played this past season at the University of Indianapolis.
May 28, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Fred Hoiberg’s status has impacted recruiting in multiple cases for Iowa State this spring.
May 28, 2015, 7:43 PM EDT
Big 12 tournaments held at the Sprint Center have averaged more than 18,000 fans per session.
May 28, 2015, 6:41 PM EDT
Each team will have three “permanent” opponents they’re guaranteed to play twice every season.
May 28, 2015, 5:46 PM EDT
Video surfaced showing that Alie-Cox wasn’t involved in the incident, contradicting a woman’s claim that he punched her in the face.
May 28, 2015, 4:04 PM EDT
UConn’s now added three transfers to the program this spring, two of whom will be eligible immediately as graduate students.
May 28, 2015, 3:24 PM EDT
Foster led Clemson to their only Elite 8 appearance in program history.
May 28, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
Paige went to high school an hour from UNI’s campus.
May 28, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Iowa State fans shouldn’t freak out too much.
May 28, 2015, 12:24 PM EDT
Dellavedova was a star with the Gaels before he became this year’s NBA Playoff star.
May 28, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Byers created the term “student-athlete” and first sold TV rights for NCAA broadcasts, but later wrote a book blasting the NCAA for exploiting athletes.
May 28, 2015, 9:52 AM EDT
This is a step in the right direction by the Big 12.
May 27, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT
It’s safe to say that Sherman is no fan of the NCAA.
May 27, 2015, 9:05 PM EDT
The shot clock won’t have as much of an impact on offenses as lessening the physicality of the game.
May 27, 2015, 7:31 PM EDT
The 6-foot-11 center was originally expected to attend prep school before joining Memphis in 2016.
May 27, 2015, 5:38 PM EDT
The 6-foot-6 southpaw showed off his arm, and was accurate in doing so.
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- Academic issues expected to sideline St. John’s point guard for fall semester, maybe longer 7
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