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.
Mar 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Arizona hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2001, but all involved are focused on Wisconsin and not that streak.
Mar 27, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Frazier is projected as a second round pick.
Mar 27, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
The 6-foot-7 forward has two years of eligibility left.
Mar 27, 2015, 3:36 PM EDT
Rick Barnes has been with Texas for 17 seasons.
Mar 27, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT
Lavin had been with the St. John’s program for five years.
Mar 27, 2015, 1:31 PM EDT
Prohm was one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel.
Mar 27, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Nigel Hayes has become a national sensation this tournament.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT
Two transfers in one week is not a good thing.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
It’s pretty cool to see this process in action.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:31 AM EDT
Forbes spent two years as an assistant at Wichita State.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:08 AM EDT
Tennessee has parted ways with head coach Donnie Tyndall after only one season.
Tourney Snacks: Kentucky, Notre Dame win in Midwest; Arizona, Wisconsin advance to set up Elite Eight rematch
Mar 27, 2015, 1:45 AM EDT
The Elite Eight will feature a rematch in the West Regional between Arizona and Wisconsin and Kentucky battling Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional.
Mar 27, 2015, 1:00 AM EDT
Kentucky’s win also means that the Big 12 is down to one team: Oklahoma.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:59 AM EDT
Arizona played slightly better on both ends of the floor in the second half, and they’ll take on No. 1 Wisconsin as a result.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:48 AM EDT
If you are going to talk, you better be able to back it up
Mar 27, 2015, 12:19 AM EDT
The schedule for Saturday has been released.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:11 AM EDT
Jalen Reynolds dunks everything he gets his hands on, it seems.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:06 AM EDT
No. 1 Kentucky looked completely dominant in an easy win over No. 5 West Virginia.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:03 AM EDT
This is nasty.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
After Dekker scored 15 points in the first half, Kaminksy scored 15 in the second half for the Badgers.
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- Steve Lavin and St. John’s ‘mutually agree’ to part ways 1
- No. 2 Arizona pulls away from No. 6 Xavier, setting up West regional final rematch 0
- No. 3 Notre Dame knocks off No. 7 Wichita State to get to the Elite 8 17
- Tradition of success through change raises expectations at Xavier 1
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- Sweet 16 Preview: The x-factor in each game this week 1
- Kentucky’s John Calipari is the National Coach of the Year, and it’s not close (36)
- Kentucky responds to Daxter Miles Jr.’s pregame comments (30)
- Updated tournament records: Kentucky moves SEC above .500 (23)
- West Virginia freshman on Kentucky: ‘They’re going to be 36-1′ (20)
- NCAA’s Mark Emmert calls Indiana’s religious freedom bill ‘especially concerning’ (20)