The Kentucky–Louisville rivalry has evolved into one of the nastiest rivalries in college basketball. This rivalry is different from Duke–North Carolina because Duke and North Carolina both play in the ACC. They each get to each play a home game against the other and have the chance to meet a third time in the ACC Tournament. Kentucky and Louisville are in different conferences so the loser of this game has to wait an entire year before they get a shot at revenge. The loss festers, and the rivalry grows.
With current Louisville head coach Rick Pitino being the former coach of Kentucky, this rivalry has been taken to another level. Also the hatred between Pitino and John Calipari adds even more fuel to the fire. These two teams hate each other, their coaches hate each other, their fanbases hate each other, and this rivalry is an all-out, year-round brawl. Both of these schools are basketball schools. Kentucky may be in the SEC, but they are never competitive in football. Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater and are always one of the better teams in their conference, but basketball is all that matters to these two schools. Both schools have storied histories, and as a matter of fact these are the past two NCAA Champions.
When they meet on Saturday afternoon for their yearly tussle, one of these two teams will be walking away with their first win against a top-25 team. Kentucky has had three cracks at a win over a ranked opponent and has gone 0-3 versus Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina while Louisville is only 0-1 with their lone top-25 opponent being North Carolina. In most seasons I would say Kentucky needs to win this game more because they play in the SEC where there are typically only one or two other ranked teams for them to make up ground, but with Louisville being in the American Athletic Conference they are now in the same situation as Kentucky. So, this already heated rivalry now carries even more weight. Whichever teams leaves Saturday’s matchup with the loss will have a hard road getting back near the top of the rankings.
Kentucky comes in with one of the youngest teams in the country while Louisville returns seven players from last year’s championship roster. Calipari’s squad has an advantage in the post with Julius Randle and the defense of Willie Cauley-Stein. Randle will be getting his first taste of NBA-caliber athleticism when he goes up against Montrezl Harrell, and Harrell will also be tested for the first time this season. The biggest thing to watch in this duel will be how well Harrell defends Randle. Harrell offers the best athleticism you will see in the post, but Randle has the most post-moves of any player in the country. If Randle can get Harrell in foul trouble, the game will then be tilted in favor of the Wildcats.
Louisville will look to force Kentucky’s young squad into turnovers; that’s what the Cardinals do best. If Kentucky has a lot of turnovers and is unable to get Randle involved on the offensive end, Louisville will be able to runaway with this game. Russ Smith and Chris Jones will harass Andrew Harrison all game long and force him to protect the ball the entire length of the court. With Kentucky only having one really good ball-handler, look for them to force the ball out of Harrison’s hands and make James Young or someone else responsible for getting Kentucky into their offense.
This will be an exciting game; Kentucky’s offensive excellence in the post versus Louisville’s defensive pressure will be the key to this game. Kentucky is too good in the half-court, but will they be able to get to the half-court with Louisville applying pressure? I can’t wait to see it, and more importantly, I can’t wait to hear what Cal and Pitino have to say afterwards when the venom sets in and they know that they won’t be able to redeem themselves until next season.
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