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. N.C. State releases their 2014-2015 non-conference schedule

    Jul 31, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    It’s not that strong, but it could have been much worse.

  2. Auburn releases signee Sam Logwood from National Letter of Intent

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:32 PM EDT

    adidas adidas

    The highly athletic wing is back on the market, but he’s yet to be cleared academically.

  3. Guard Quinndary Weatherspoon becomes Mississippi State’s third 2015 commit

    Jul 30, 2014, 8:17 PM EDT

    Rick Ray AP

    The Bulldogs succeeded in keeping a talented in-state product home.

  4. Marquette guard Todd Mayo leaves program to pursue professional opportunities

    Jul 30, 2014, 7:12 PM EDT

    Todd Mayo AP

    Mayo’s decision means that Marquette has to replace its top four scorers from last season.

  5. 2015 shooting guard Terence Davis verbally commits to Ole Miss

    Jul 30, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT

    Andy Kennedy AP

    Just over a month after landing a junior college guard, the Rebels have their second commit in the Class of 2015.

  6. UCLA AD Dan Guerrero expects Pauley Pavilion to be ready for regular season

    Jul 30, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    UCLA Introduces Steve Alford Getty Images

    UCLA is holding out hope that John Wooden Court can be salvaged, but if not they’ll have time to replace it.

  7. Mixtape for VCU-bound Terry Larrier (VIDEO)

    Jul 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Larrier is the best recruit that Shaka Smart has landed at VCU.

  8. Junior college prospect Andre Spight working to improve point guard skills

    Jul 30, 2014, 12:51 PM EDT

    South Plains College South Plains College

    After averaging 16.0 points per game as a freshman, the South Plains College guard is looking to become a better lead guard as a sophomore.

  9. Report: Dayton lands a three-star recruit from DC

    Jul 30, 2014, 11:39 AM EDT

    Nike Nike

    It’s Dayton’s third commitment from the Class of 2015

  10. Report: Top Oregon recruit denied admission to school

    Jul 30, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT

    Dana Altman AP

    Oregon is now left with just nine scholarship players, only two of whom saw significant minutes last season.

  11. Report: Air Force transfer Tre Coggins finds a landing spot

    Jul 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Coggins will be heading back closer to his Southern California home

  12. Duncan Robinson, of D-III Williams College, considering transfer to Michigan, Davidson

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT

    AP AP

    Rising sophomore forward Duncan Robinson played his freshman year at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, but could be on the move for next season.

  13. A flooded Pauley Pavilion reopened in 2012 after $136 million in renovations

    Jul 29, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT

    Pauley Pavilion

    UCLA reopened Pauley Pavilion in 2012 after $136 million worth of renovations.

  14. Coach K: ‘I do not see an end of my road in my college coaching’

    Jul 29, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT

    Mike Krzyzewski AP

    Mike Krzyzewski is entering his 40th season as a head coach.

  15. Doug Wojcik’s attorney releases video of player assault allegations

    Jul 29, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Doug Wojcik has been investigated twice by the College of Charleston.

  16. John Calipari’s return to Kentucky ‘solely’ due to loyalty to his players

    Jul 29, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Cal told The Sporting News that he couldn’t leave behind the guys that decided to return to school. Do you buy it?

  17. Willie Cauley-Stein sheds light on injury he suffered in NCAA tournament

    Jul 29, 2014, 5:22 PM EDT

    AP AP

    A former UK coach gave his listeners some new details about Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury.