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.
Feb 27, 2015, 7:20 PM EST
The starting guard has missed the last 11 games.
Feb 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EST
This isn’t the first time he’s done this in a game.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:45 PM EST
The Vandy coach was quick to apology following last night’s incident.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:25 PM EST
Derrick Walton Jr. hasn’t played in just over a month, but he’s still bothered by an issue with his right foot.
Feb 27, 2015, 3:20 PM EST
Floyd was ejected with 10:05 remaining in the Miners’ 77-60 loss at Louisiana Tech, and he failed to leave the court in a timely manner.
Feb 27, 2015, 2:59 PM EST
Billy Donovan would like to see his veteran forward make some strides in the commitment department moving forward.
Feb 27, 2015, 2:16 PM EST
On the heels of St. John’s last NCAA appearance in 2011, seven players joined the program. Three remain, and their aim is to get to the Big Dance as seniors.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:32 PM EST
Also of note is the second meeting of the season between rivals Iona and Manhattan.
Feb 27, 2015, 12:12 PM EST
Shooting 7-for-10 from three over the last two games, Gabe York has hit multiple three-pointers in consecutive games for the first time since mid-December. That’s a good development for Arizona.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:01 AM EST
While the Wildcats continue to roll along, other one-seeds are up for discussion as the season moves into the month of March.
Feb 27, 2015, 9:55 AM EST
Leading by six with 34 seconds remaining in regulation, Michigan State looked to be on their way to a home win over Minnesota. Then they fouled three-point shooters on two separate occasions.
Feb 27, 2015, 8:07 AM EST
I hope you’re ready for a thrilling day of hoops.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:31 AM EST
Michigan State fouled three-point shooters on two separate occasions late in regulation, and it set the stage for an overtime loss at home.
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings apologizes for postgame outburst directed at freshman guard Wade Baldwin IV
Feb 26, 2015, 11:47 PM EST
The Vandy freshman taunted a Tennessee player as time expired in the Commodores’ win, and his head coach read him the riot act in the handshake line.
Feb 26, 2015, 10:29 PM EST
Who were the winners and the losers on the bubble on Thursday?
Feb 26, 2015, 9:17 PM EST
Tate scored a career-high 22 points Thursday night, and his move into the starting lineup has helped Ohio State.
Feb 26, 2015, 8:35 PM EST
Five year-old Nicholas Wince spent the entire day with West Virginia prior to their win over Texas, signing a National Letter of Intent as well.
Feb 26, 2015, 5:54 PM EST
Without Jordan McLaughlin, USC will have to rely on Julian Jacobs at the point in their final two regular season games.
Feb 26, 2015, 4:50 PM EST
In addition to a ruptured plantar fascia suffered in a loss to Florida in late-January, Ricky Tarrant also needs to undergo a procedure on his left knee.
Feb 26, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
Boeheim doesn’t seem pleased about the ruling.
- NCAA tournament berth the final step for St. John’s senior class 0
- Bracketology: Kentucky reigns and March arrives 2
- Weekend Preview: Saturday will be the season’s best day of games 1
- Bubble Banter: Just how safe is Michigan State, and did Ohio State punch a ticket? 2
- Report: Former Louisville guard Chris Jones charged with rape, sodomy 13
- Wednesday’s Snacks: No. 1 Kentucky moves to 28-0, Northwestern knocks off Indiana 0
- Duke’s defense once again an issue as they get taken to overtime by Virginia Tech 4
- Report: Former Louisville guard Chris Jones charged with rape, sodomy (13)
- Bill Self crushed, Jamari Traylor targeted during Kansas State court storm (VIDEO) (12)
- Roy Williams calls out North Carolina fans following win over Georgia Tech (11)
- Dez Wells, Melo Trimble lead No. 14 Maryland to upset of No. 5 Wisconsin (9)
- Is Ohio State asking too much of freshman sensation D’Angelo Russell? (8)