It doesn’t get much more entertaining than Kentucky and Louisville when it comes to college basketball. There are plenty of great rivalries across the nation, but the Bluegrass Rivalry is the best of the best. It will be renewed on Wednesday night.
This time, the two teams are set to battle with as much as you can have on the line this early in the season. Entering the matchup, Kentucky is ranked 6th in the AP Coach’s Poll and Louisville comes in at No. 10. A quality win this early in the season goes a long way toward strengthening the resume and boosting the potential NCAA Tournament seed the winning team ends up with.
Two of college basketball’s greatest coaches, John Calipari and Rick Pitino, will be at their most intense. There is no love lost between the two head men or their two teams. When it comes down to it, a couple things will help decide the newest renewal of the rivalry.
Both teams are 10-1 entering their clash at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville and the key to victory lies in the resiliency of the Wildcats. They are an inexperienced team going on the road against a team that has played in big games like this before. While most of Kentucky’s key playmakers are freshmen and sophomores, Louisville boasts a lineup with plenty of experience.
Road games are tough for any team, especially at the KFC Yum! Center, where the Cardinals have posted a 106-14 record. Those games get even tougher when that’s your first taste of a hostile environment like it will be for the sixth-ranked Wildcats. However, inexperienced Kentucky teams have gone into Louisville’s house and grabbed wins recently.
Two out of the last three times the Wildcats have visited their hated foes, they have left town with a victory. That was then and this is now, though. With so much roster turnover from year to year at Kentucky, it’s hard to predict how each new crop of young stars will fare in their first road tests of their collegiate careers. In fact, Calipari’s Kentucky teams are 2-5 in their first true road games of each season under his watch.
Since, as a team, Louisville has shot the three poorly, look for Kentucky to zone in on the front court of the Cardinals. Specifically, they will be putting pressure on Deng Adel and Jaylen Johnson, two junior forwards. If they can shut them down, Louisville will have to start forcing up threes, and that’s not a game they want to get into against a talented Kentucky team.
A lot of missed threes means chances in transition the other way for Kentucky and they really don’t want that, when the Wildcats have someone as freakishly athletic as Malik Monk.
Kentucky has four players averaging double figures, but they have not played a suffocating Louisville defense yet and they have not played in a truly hostile environment yet. They will on Wednesday night. What Calipari needs to be wary of is his team forcing up shots. Everyone on that roster that gets consistent playing time has superstar ability. If they get into trouble, they can’t start playing hero ball.
When it comes down to it, this game, like most evenly-matched rivalry games, will come down to momentum swings. You figure both teams will go on a few runs throughout the contest, but who will be the team that can go on the run that puts the game on ice? That, of course, remains to be seen, which is what makes games like this so exciting.
If you had to pick a particular team here, you generally have to go with the experience early on. In March, Kentucky could very well be the more prepared team in this game. However, in December, with an inexperienced team on the road, Coach Cal is in a tough spot. Expect a close game with Louisville showing enough poise late to come up with the big rivalry win.
The prediction: Louisville 81, Kentucky 74.
[Featured Image by John Locher/AP Images]