John Calipari has had the Kentucky job since 2009. Since 2009, Kentucky has played Louisville in the regular season 7 times and twice in the NCAA tournament (great games).
And John Calipari is 8-1 against Rick Pitino. Rick Pitino’s squad has absolutely been a worthy opponent and has challenged Calipari’s squad. But, on paper, Calipari has absolutely dominated this rivalry – 8 wins speaks for itself, especially when there are 2 wins in the NCAA tournament, and Cal’s one loss was a 3-point loss at Louisville in a year where Kentucky made the NIT and Louisville won the national championship.
Yet, rarely are the victories lopsided. There’s a reason this rivalry gets a lot of buzz and is among the best non-conference rivalries in college basketball. Each time these schools play each other, due to their relevance on a national level and the history shared between the two programs, I get excited each time. Off the heels of Malik Monk’s MONSTROUS explosion against UNC, Kentucky got by an elite team in North Carolina to get their first victory. Can they dethrone another ACC team, this time, on the road? Can Louisville enhance its tournament resume with a win over Kentucky before heading into ACC play, where they’ll get plenty of chances to play quality teams? Even if you disregard the history, there’s always storylines and things to pay attention to when these teams duel it out for state-bragging rights. And, now that the AP poll for this week has been updated, the two teams will be in the Top-10. Could there possibly be more reasons why this game is going to be highly anticipated and important?
Who has more on the line?
To answer the question – if we are talking about say, shots for quality wins and boosting the tournament resume, the answer here is Kentucky. The SEC is weaker than the ACC – Louisville can lose this game and will still have shots at PLENTY of quality opponents. Though Kentucky has a Big 12-SEC Challenge game against Kansas, it is at home for whatever that’s worth. This is Kentucky’s shot for a high-quality road win and is one of the last two top-10 teams they will play. So, the answer here is Kentucky. As Matt Norlander of CBS Sports noted, even after the UNC win, Kentucky’s resume for now doesn’t quite have them in 1-seed contention and the SEC isn’t going to give them many opportunities.
What to watch?
Once again, I’m going to bring up something Matt Norlander pointed out that I absolutely agree with. Malik Monk was the one who dropped 47 points against UNC, but Kentucky’s best all-around and most indispensable player is De’Aaron Fox. The casual fan won’t realize he had 24 points and 10 assists against UNC. Everybody on Kentucky has the game flow to the more easily with Fox as the floor general.
So, it will be fun to see Fox go against the matchup zone and long, quick, defensively pesky Louisville team.
Will Malik Monk go off again? Will De’Aaron Fox shred the press? Will Louisville’s matchup zone lead to Kentucky struggling (or shooting their typical percentages) from deep or will Malik Monk get hot?
Don’t sleep on VJ King – Louisville’s lone true freshman who is a 6 foot 8 athletic wing. He was a McDonalds All-American and though he still is not there yet physically, he has the tools and scoring ability to do some damage maybe not in this game, but in future games between these two schools.
Also, everybody is going to talk about the freshman guards for Kentucky, but the solidifying piece that makes Kentucky have one of the best backcourts is Isaiah Briscoe. Though he’s not a great shooter, he’s an improved shooter from last year. He’s strong, physically mature, smart, and can really defend. He’s just a sophomore but he’s considered the leader and veteran of this team.
Predictions for the game, these two teams
I think this will be a good, close game that will be higher scoring than the last 2 games between the two schools. And, one team will pull away in the final minutes.
I see Kentucky winning this game, beating Kansas at home, running through the SEC with just one or two losses and thus, heading into Selection Sunday with 2-3 losses. That should be able to garner them a one-seed. Their resume would have a bunch of SEC wins, a win over Michigan State, Louisville, and Kansas.
As for Louisville, they still play Indiana in the non-conference slate, Virginia twice, Duke at home, at North Carolina, and plenty of NCAA tournament-bound ACC foes. They should get a 3 or 4 seed.
Is it asking too much if I want these two teams to meet AGAIN in the NCAA tournament? Despite Kentucky’s dominance in this series since Calipari’s arrival, this still feels like one of the best, most fun, intense, and watchable rivalries in college hoops.