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. Skal Labissiere is back from his back injury (VIDEO)

    Apr 24, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT

    Skal Labissiere, Denio Chirindja

    Kentucky, Kansas and just about every elite program in the country is on the trail of the Haitian.

  2. Former Georgetown forward Moses Ayegba will transfer to Nebraska

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:57 AM EDT

    Moses Ayegba AP

    According to multiple reports, former Georgetown big Moses Ayegba has decided to transfer to Nebraska.

  3. Report: UConn center Amida Brimah may undergo shoulder surgery

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:17 AM EDT

    NCAA Men's Final Four - Championship Getty Images

    According to a report, UConn center Amida Brimah will need to undergo surgery on his left shoulder.

  4. Shaka Smart adds former Vanderbilt assistant David Cason to VCU coaching staff

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:38 PM EDT

    Shaka Smart Getty Images

    Shaka Smart filled a vacancy on his staff Wednesday, hiring former Vanderbilt assistant David Cason.

  5. Has Top 100 forward Malek Harris committed to Kansas State?

    Apr 23, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT

    Bruce Weber AP

    Less than a week after making an official visit to the school, it was reported that Malek Harris had committed to Kansas State. But that may not be the case.

  6. Tulsa head coach Frank Haith announces coaching staff

    Apr 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT

    Frank Haith AP

    Frank Haith announced his coaching staff Wednesday, with the trio combining to have more than 90 seasons of coaching experience.

  7. Report: UConn, Duke to meet at Izod Center next season

    Apr 23, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    UConn and Duke will reportedly play each other just before Christmas in New Jersey.

  8. DePaul adds junior college guard Darrick Wood

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT

    Oliver Purnell AP

    Former St. John’s commit Darrick Wood verbally committed to attend DePaul on Wednesday.

  9. Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson to return for sophomore season

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT

    Dakari Johnson AP

    After playing well in Kentucky’s run to the national title game, Dakari Johnson has decided to return for his sophomore season.

  10. LSU freshman Jordan Mickey returning for his sophomore season

    Apr 23, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT

    jordan mickey AP

    LSU should have the pieces to be a tournament team in 2014-2015.

  11. Report: Richard Pitino lands fifth commitment first Minnesota class

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT

    2014 NIT Championship Getty Images

    Minnesota landed a commitment from a 6-foot-11 three-star recruit.

  12. Arnaud William Adala Moto to transfer from Wake Forest

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT

    Wake Forest v Maryland Wake Forest v Maryland

    Adala Moto was a top 150 recruit in the class of 2012.

  13. Arizona-signee Kadeem Allen named JuCo Player of the Year

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Allen will be one of the keys to Arizona’s season. Click to see why.

  14. Julius Randle visits with the Dan Patrick Show (VIDEO)

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:34 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Randle talks favorite NBA players and the one-and-done rule.

  15. Alex Poythress is returning to Kentucky for his junior year

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT

    poythress2 Getty Images

    Kentucky got some good news on Wednesday afternoon.

  16. Report: UTEP head coach Tim Floyd emerges as a candidate for Missouri job

    Apr 22, 2014, 11:08 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The UTEP coach is now a candidate to replace Frank Haith at Missouri.

Featured video

Derrick Gordon says 'Why not me?'