Despite some people downplaying the UK/UofL game on the show Sunday, I am one of those who feel this game is the biggest date of the year. Maybe because of the pride in my state and my alma mater. Maybe its because I want to see UK stick it to its former coach. Maybe its because beating the Cardinals will at least be a good non-conference win on the resume. Maybe its because of the victorious boasting and schadenfreude at stake; their loss is better than your gain. Or Maybe its because I placed a few wagers.
The recent domination of this rivalry does not diminish its importance to me. Think of the flipside: Bobby Petrino’s control over the Cats on the gridiron (before UK’s win a few weeks ago, he was undefeated against the Cats coaching at other Kentucky schools). But a spunky Mark Stoops proved that past wins don’t mean anything in the moment. The Cats can be vulnerable Wednesday. Imagine how Saturday would’ve ended if Monk only went for 30. If the game doesn’t flow to UK’s liking, they can get nipped despite having more talent.
This is the first true road game as all other games away from Rupp have been at neural sites. Nothing is more unpredictable than a rivalry game, especially this one of such high caliber. Kentucky’s only loss so far was at home to No. 2 UCLA by 5 and Louisville’s was a 3 point home defeat to No. 4 Baylor. Both have beaten a least one ranked foe. So, let’s see how they stack up side-by-side:
Louisville is a defensive team. They don’t shoot it particularly well, but they stifle their opponents in the half court. UK, of course, looks to create havoc on defense to generate their fast break; Kentucky has one of the most efficient transition scoring teams in the nation. UK’s achilles heel is defending athletic and long wings. Gabriel and Willis continue to be beaten laterally and Briscoe is too small to matchup with the bigger 3’s.
Louisville can’t shoot…at all. So, I expect our wings to sag a bit and help a little more in the paint. If Deng Adel can get past our small forward’s consistently, Louisville will be able to break down the Cats. Though they, like UK, will play through their backcourt, Louisville’s bigs will have to outplay Kentucky’s in order to keep up. Cal will make his team push, and Rick will try to slow things down and force UK’s young guns to guard.
It’s not out of the question for one side to have a massive rebounding margin over its cross-Commonwealth foe, but that area will most likely be a battle. Rebounding had given Cal’s team some fits going into the UNC game last week. The Cats showed more tenacity going after balls, but still left something to be desired. The more they can get defensive rebounds, the more opportunities they have to run. UK will want to have some pace to the play.
Louisville wins if they over perform their shooting averages from the perimeter and win the turnover battle. Kentucky wins if they control the boards and are able to knock down some shots; and probably if they can get another 47 point performance from Monk, but I’m not holding my breathe. With Rick and Cal well-versed on each other’s tendencies, these teams will be well prepared. With a freshman-laden team going on the road for the first time and facing off against its most heated rival, many unknowns can occur.
I got UK by 7 points. Who you got?