Dec 27, 2013, 12:00 PM EST
Two months ago, the Battle of the Bluegrass that will take place on Saturday afternoon was the single-most highly-anticipated game of the college basketball season.
Two of the nation’s top three teams — the last two national champions — squaring off in a game that just-so-happens to be the most intense rivalry in the sport these days? It’s should come as no surprise, then, that the entire state of Kentucky and every college hoops media member circled this date on their calendar the second that we knew what the date was.
But thanks to some early season struggles, No. 6 Louisville’s visit to No. 18 Kentucky isn’t even the best game on Saturday afternoon. That title goes to the battle of the undefeateds between No. 2 Syracuse and No. 8 Villanova.
That doesn’t mean that we won’t be looking forward to that 4:00 p.m. tipoff on Saturday.
Quite the opposite, actually.
In fact, what makes the game so intriguing is the unknown. This is not an exaggeration: There is nothing that could happen in this game that would surprise me, save for Willie Cauley-Stein hitting 10 threes or Chane Behanan hitting all his free throws.
Louisville is one of the best teams in the country. They are currently sitting at No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings, posting the nation’s most efficient offense while slotting in fifth in defensive efficiency. They do what every Rick Pitino team has done: press, force turnovers, rely on the playmaking ability of their back court. The Cardinals are legit, and it would shock no one if they went into Rupp and beat the Wildcats.
But part of the reason for that is that Kentucky has not been themselves thus far this season. Or maybe they have and we just expected too much. John Calipari has a group that has now lost to the three marquee opponents they have played by a total of 13 points. All three of those losses came on the road or on a neutral court. In all three games, there was one part of Kentucky’s performance that cost them the win.
In other words, the talent on this roster is evident. Getting that talent to play together has been a tougher task that Cal expected.
Is this the game that they finally breakthrough?
Because at the end of the day, neither Kentucky nor Louisville has an elite victory this season. The Cards lost to North Carolina in fairly ugly fashion, getting worked over at Mohegan Sun back in November. Both teams really need this win, not just to right their ship and get their season headed in the right direction. And it’s not just to earn bragging rights in the Commonwealth for the next 12 months.
It’s to ease the fears of a slow start. Doubts are creeping in on both sides of the rivalry, and a loss on Saturday will only escalate those doubts.
So who gets the win?
Well, there are two keys to this game the way I see it.
First and foremost, the Harrison twins are going to have to be able to handle Louisville’s pressure. They cannot turn the ball over and give the Cardinals easy run outs. Kentucky’s biggest knock is on the defensive end of the floor, and they last thing they need to do is allow the Cards to get run out after run out after run out. Protect the ball, maximize possessions offensively and eliminate those easy buckets. Sounds easy, right?
The other key to the game will be the battle of the front courts. Julius Randle is as good as anyone in the country at drawing fouls and getting opposing bigs into foul trouble. Louisville has some bigs that can hold their own against Randle in the post, but those kids — Montrezl Harrell, Chane Behanan, Mangok Mathiang, Stephen Van Treese — have a bad habit of getting into foul trouble.
Kentucky-Louisville has lost some of its luster from the preseason, but this is still must-see TV.
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Earlier this week San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh dropped in on Kansas’ pregame shootaround, even knocking down a half court shot during his time at Allen Fieldhouse. On Friday Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo made an appearance at Cameron Indoor Stadium the day before Duke’s important game with…
Mar 8, 2014, 1:00 AM EST
A recap of Friday night’s action, including Harvard wrapping up the Ivy League crown
Mar 7, 2014, 10:22 PM EST
Siyani Chambers and company played much better in the rematch, beating Yale to earn a third consecutive NCAA tournament berth.
Mar 7, 2014, 9:38 PM EST
Meet Harvard, the first team to wrap up a spot in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Mar 7, 2014, 7:15 PM EST
Harvard looks to wrap up its third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
Mar 7, 2014, 6:25 PM EST
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin met with the media to address the actions that led to his one-game suspension
Mar 7, 2014, 5:03 PM EST
UCSB issues a statement regarding Thursday’s incident in which a fan confronted Hawaii head coach Gib Arnold on the court
Mar 7, 2014, 3:43 PM EST
No. 2 Wichita State moves to 32-0, with their big men performing well in their “Arch Madness” opener.
2014 Summit League Tournament Preview: North Dakota State looks to avenge last year’s title-game loss
Mar 7, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
North Dakota State is looking to avenge last season’s Summit League title game loss by winning the 2014 Summit League Conference Tournament after winning the regular season crown.
Mar 7, 2014, 2:27 PM EST
Winthrop’s Andre Smith provides the latest buzzer-beater, knocking off Big South regular season champ High Point.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:36 PM EST
Longtime Syracuse fan receives a special present eight days prior to her 100th birthday
Mar 7, 2014, 12:26 PM EST
A look at the 2009 Big East quarterfinal between UConn and Syracuse, nearly five years after the game was played.
Mar 7, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
It’s no longer a league dominated by Vermont, Albany and Boston U. Perhaps this bodes well for Steve Pikiell’s squad.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:40 AM EST
Five conference tournaments in action, and Harvard looks to punch its ticket to the Big Dance.
Mar 7, 2014, 9:21 AM EST
Going to be a busy week for all the bubble teams, too.
Mar 7, 2014, 8:50 AM EST
Duke vs. North Carolina highlights a spate of ranked matchups, not to mention teams will start snagging tickets to the Big dance as well.
Mar 7, 2014, 2:54 AM EST
Wildcats stay in contention for a No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament, while a Southland shootout takes game of night honors.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:13 AM EST
Hawkeyes sure didn’t mind conceding open looks on Thursday.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:05 AM EST
There are 11 days left until Selection Sunday. Every morning from now until the bracket comes out, we’ll help you get caught up on the happenings with impact on the bubble from the night before.
- Harvard wraps up third consecutive NCAA tournament berth (VIDEO) 0
- Weekend Preview: The regular season comes to a close 1
- For the first time in months, No. 22 Michigan State and Keith Appling look healthy 5
- Senior starters once again carry No. 15 Cincinnati 0
- Doug McDermott’s career still missing most important part: His One Shining Moment 0
- Bryce Cotton, Providence’s marathon man, looking to lead the Friars on a run to the NCAA tournament 0
- Bubble Banter: Colorado, Dayton the day’s biggest winners 1
- Undefeated regular season says all we need to know about No. 2 Wichita State (9)
- No. 7 Syracuse falls to Georgia Tech in a shocking home loss (9)
- Finally at full strength, Michigan State sleepwalks through loss to Illinois (6)
- Kentucky hits rock bottom, loses at South Carolina (6)
- College Basketball Talk’s latest Top 25 (6)