Skip to content

The beauty of No. 6 Louisville vs. No. 18 Kentucky is the unpredictability

Dec 27, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

AP photo AP photo

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher down to six schools

    Aug 4, 2015, 7:38 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The four-star point guard cut his list in half on Tuesday night.

  2. Student who accused Oregon players of sexual assault settles lawsuit for $800,000

    Aug 4, 2015, 5:24 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The lawsuit stems from an alleged incident back in March of 2014.

  3. Mamadi Diakite becomes Virginia’s third four-star recruit in Class of 2016

    Aug 4, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The 6-foot-9 power forward becomes the third four-star recruit in the Class of 2016 to commit to the Cavaliers.

  4. Virginia and Cal announce home and home series

    Aug 4, 2015, 3:01 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Both teams will be ranked in the preseason top 15 this season.

  5. Mississippi State wing arrested for driving on suspended license

    Aug 4, 2015, 1:52 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Xavier Stapleton is sitting out this season after transferring from Louisiana Tech.

  6. No. 2 prospect obliterates defender with a tip-dunk (VIDEO)

    Aug 4, 2015, 10:03 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.01.12 AM

    This kid isn’t even a sophomore yet.

  7. Fixing his flaws: How Kris Dunn has attacked the two weaknesses in his game

    Aug 3, 2015, 11:59 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    There are two glaring weaknesses to Kris Dunn’s game. Here’s how he’s gone about trying to fix them this summer.

  8. Ball is Life offers a unique look at the Under Armour Association, road to Elite 24, in new video

    Aug 3, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/adidas Kelly Kline/adidas

    A cool documentary-style approach to the Under Armour Association in preparation for the Elite 24.

  9. Nebraska hopes foreign trip can give young players experience

    Aug 3, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Nebraska is hoping a four-game trip in Spain helps with their freshmen.

  10. Report: Baylor forward will leave the program

    Aug 3, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Baylor is losing a reserve forward to transfer.

  11. Report: Four-star forward could choose a school soon

    Aug 3, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/adidas) (Kelly Kline/adidas)

    Mamadi Diakite, a four-star forward, could decide between three schools soon, per a report.

  12. Penn State lands their most important recruit in a decade in Tony Carr

    Aug 3, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT

    chambers Getty Images

    Tony Carr is a four-star point guard that picked Penn State over Maryland, SMU and Providence.

  13. Investigation funded by Illinois clears Illinois women’s coaches of racism claims

    Aug 3, 2015, 12:29 PM EDT

    Matt Bollant (AP Photo) AP

    The investigation was conducted by an outside law firm and paid for by the university.

  14. Five-star guard Rawle Alkins cuts his list to ten

    Aug 3, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Alkins might be the best player from New York City since Lance Stephenson.

  15. Michigan announces non-conference schedule

    Aug 3, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    The schedule isn’t the best you’ll see this season, but it’s pretty solid nonetheless.

  16. Four-star 2016 combo guard cuts list to four

    Aug 2, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    St. John’s remains under consideration for the Brooklyn native.