Dec 27, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT
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.
Jul 6, 2015, 2:48 PM EDT
Kentucky had led the nation in average attendance for eight straight years.
Jul 6, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT
The top three in this group is debatable.
Jul 6, 2015, 12:53 PM EDT
Jonathan Isaac is loaded with potential.
Jul 6, 2015, 11:23 AM EDT
The front of the jersey said Kansas before.
Jul 6, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT
Two of the nation’s best high schoolers square off.
Jul 5, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
Thibodeaux’s decision came eight days after he began basic training.
Jul 5, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
All of the violations were deemed to be Level III or Level IV violations, which isn’t a big deal at all.
Jul 5, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Plenty of college basketball players were in the FIBA U19 World Championships besides the Americans.
Jul 5, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT
The USA U19 team captured back-to-back FIBA World Championships for the first time since 1983.
Jul 5, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT
Mississippi State landed a commitment on Sunday from a transfer.
Jul 5, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Kansas (USA) is 2-0 so far at the World University Games.
Jul 5, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
Markelle Fultz is one the best guard prospects in the country.
Jul 4, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Mathiang’s playing on an Australian team that includes the likes of Peter Hooley and Hugh Greenwood.
Jul 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
The 6-foot-9 Henry averaged 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season.
Jul 4, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Jalen Brunson led the way with 30 points for the United States, which plays Croatia Sunday.
Jul 4, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Miles Bridges is one of the better scorers in the 2016 class.
Jul 4, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT
The US is taking on the hosts in the semifinals, with the winner getting Croatia on Sunday.
Jul 4, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Four players from 2015 NCAA tournament programs are trying out for the Canadian national team.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Kansas won its debut overseas this summer as Wayne Selden had a big outing.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT
UConn landed a quality guard in the Class of 2016.
- Re-ranking Recruiting Classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2009? 1
- Florida State lands commitment from five-star 2016 prospect 0
- USA U19 team wins in overtime of gold-medal game over Croatia at FIBA World Championships 0
- Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2008? 1
- Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2007? 1
- Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2006? 0
- Re-ranking recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2005? 1