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.
Jan 27, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
You sometimes forget just how good some of the Duke guards were throughout the years. Here’s a reminder.
Jan 27, 2015, 3:33 PM EST
Hugh Greenwood made headlines last week for responding to an online troll.
Jan 27, 2015, 2:16 PM EST
Coach K is the best.
Jan 27, 2015, 1:40 PM EST
It should be an entertaining night for college hoops.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EST
Can you guess who the most important player in program history was?
Jan 27, 2015, 10:59 AM EST
Justice started seven games this season.
Jan 27, 2015, 9:16 AM EST
DePaul may have to reschedule their trip to Providence.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:45 PM EST
North Carolina and Iowa State earned conference home wins on Monday night.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:22 PM EST
Iowa State bounced back from a loss against Texas Tech with a big home win over Texas.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EST
UCLA should get a boost in practice with the addition of a four-star freshman forward to its roster.
Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 PM EST
BYU might be without a key frontcourt piece for the rest of the season.
Jan 26, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
The son of a former NBA veteran is moving on to a CAA program from Wake Forest.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:54 PM EST
Washington loses one of the most talented shot blockers in the nation.
Jan 26, 2015, 6:00 PM EST
Not a lot going on Monday night, but still some great games to check out.
Jan 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Maryland grabs an impact point guard in the 2016 class.
Jan 26, 2015, 3:52 PM EST
Johnson landed awkwardly against Ohio State and may have to miss some time.
Jan 26, 2015, 2:03 PM EST
Don’t be surprised if there is only one unbeaten left by this time next week.
Jan 26, 2015, 12:49 PM EST
A recap of the nine craziest finishes from your college hoops weekend.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:28 AM EST
Frankamp spent a little more than a year at Kansas before transferring.
Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
The best players and most impressive teams from the last week of college hoops.
- No. 15 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 19 Texas 0
- Washington kicks talented shot blocking big man off the team 1
- Tracking The Unbeatens: Virginia’s difficult schedule, and why were Kentucky’s platoons created? 1
- Weekly Awards: D’Angelo Russell’s ascension, Kansas takes the next step 0
- College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25 2
- Coach K earns career win No. 1,000 in No. 5 Duke’s win over St. John’s 4
- Kentucky lands commitment from international Class of 2016 big man 4
- No. 6 Wisconsin utterly embarrassed No. 25 Iowa for more than one reason (13)
- The Top Ten Players that Coach K has had at Duke (13)
- You think college basketball is unwatchable this year? Turn on an Indiana game (7)
- You Make The Call: Was this a charge on TaShawn Thomas? (VIDEO) (5)
- Player of the Year Power Rankings: Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky are still 1-2 (5)