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.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:42 PM EST
Here’s a rundown from Friday night’s action.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:37 PM EST
What do you think? Watch the play and let us know in the comment section.
Nov 28, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
Just another alley-oop for Slam Thompson.
Nov 28, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
The Badgers were led by Frank Kaminsky with 17 points; 13 of which came in the second half.
Nov 28, 2014, 5:58 PM EST
Here are the teams competing in the top early-season tournament.
Nov 28, 2014, 5:55 PM EST
The 2014 Barclays Center Classic will air a doubleheader on Friday night, live on NBC Sports Network. Coverage on NBCSN begins at 7 p.m. EST
Nov 28, 2014, 4:54 PM EST
Butler, picked seventh in the Big East, left the Battle 4 Atlantis with a pair of important victories.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:55 PM EST
Kansas scored 82 points in their win over Tennessee but they also committed 16 turnovers as they continue to figure each other out offensively.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:07 PM EST
Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert both suffered injuries last weekend that have kept them sidelined.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:25 AM EST
Dez Wells made just five of his 20 field goal attempts against Iowa State. This injury may be the reason why.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:24 AM EST
Providence better focus on Yale and not get caught looking forward to their game at No. 1 Kentucky on Sunday.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:01 AM EST
North Carolina did a better job on the boards while also forcing 23 turnovers in their win over UCLA.
Nov 27, 2014, 9:53 PM EST
Penn State will return to the school’s original colors- black and pink- for their next two games.
Nov 27, 2014, 6:34 PM EST
This is hilarious.
Nov 27, 2014, 6:08 PM EST
Koenig and Dukan combined to score 18 points in the second half for the second-ranked Badgers.
Nov 27, 2014, 5:24 PM EST
Khwan Fore’s averaging 7.5 minutes per game in two appearances this season.
Nov 27, 2014, 3:54 PM EST
This might have been the best feast week game of all time.
Nov 27, 2014, 12:56 PM EST
Perkins was kicked in the face by a Georgia player.
Nov 27, 2014, 11:19 AM EST
It’s not just football that’s on today.
Nov 27, 2014, 3:14 AM EST
A lot is riding on this season for St. John’s. Can they consistently be the ‘grown up’ team they claimed to be on Wednesday night?
- Wisconsin wins 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis with 69-56 win over Oklahoma 0
- Right wrist injury to sideline Maryland senior wing four weeks 0
- Bronson Koenig, Duje Dukan step forward in No. 2 Wisconsin’s win over Georgetown 0
- St. John’s seniors say they ‘grew up’ against Minnesota, but have they? 1
- The little things made a big difference in No. 3 Arizona’s win over No. 15 San Diego State 1
- Butler upsets No. 5 North Carolina in Battle 4 Atlantis opener 2
- If No. 12 Villanova doesn’t have a star on their roster, no one told JayVaughn Pinkston 0
- Villanova’s win is evidence of why VCU may have peaked as a basketball program (14)
- Rick Pitino on blow out win: ‘We played four white guys and an Egyptian’ (14)
- Michigan’s John Beilein rips ESPN for late tip time during Tuesday’s loss (13)
- Penn State unveils new uniforms for next two games (6)
- College Basketball Talk’s latest top 25: Kentucky reigns, but how far will Kansas, Florida slide? (5)