I have been up since early this morning and in the grand scheme of things, I haven’t gotten one thing done today. I have only listened to local sports talk radio and been on social media keeping up with everything UofL-UK for tonight. But isn’t that what I am supposed to be doing today? I suppose it’s finally time to come up with my prediction post, so here we go…
First of all, the December 28th game at Rupp means nothing to me. For one, it was at Rupp. Russ Smith and Luke Hancock shot a combined 10-31 that game. Speaking of Luke, he wasn’t even starting at the time, Wayne Blackshear was. Mangok Mathiang started and played 22 minutes. Chane Behanan played 20 minutes and played that game knowing he was about to be kicked off of the team. Does any of that sound like the Louisville Cardinals that you have seen recently? We are a completely different team, and yes UK is a little different as well, so that is why the last game doesn’t mean much to me. Actually if I do take anything away from it, I am glad that UK doesn’t have a revenge factor for this game. So they can have that game at Rupp, I’ll take this one tonight.
The focus from this Louisville team can’t be ignored. Their sights are clearly set on winning another championship. I have heard multiple times that with UK’s win over Wichita State, their players improved their NBA draft stock. Well that’s nice. Because with Louisville’s last win, we advanced in the NCAA Tournament, which is the goal of our TEAM. Guys like Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell, Stephan Van Treese, and Wayne Blackshear have played in big games in the NCAA Tournament before. Kentucky’s players have played in “big” AAU games. The goals of these two teams couldn’t be more different.
Another thing I am tired of hearing: UofL doesn’t match up well because of UK’s size. Really? Anyone remember that South Carolina team that beat Kentucky this season? Yes that South Carolina team that finished 14-20 and 5-13 in the SEC this season. That includes a 20 point loss at home to Manhattan by the way. Brenton Williams scored 24 points for South Carolina that night. Williams is a massive 5’11. South Carolina’s front line is 6’5, 6’7, and 6’9. The 6’5 forward, Michael Carrera, had 11 points and pulled down 7 rebounds. Luckily for some, size doesn’t matter.
For some reason, Kentucky fans are full of confidence after that Wichita State game. I am pretty sure that when Louisville beat Wichita State last year in the Final Four, that win was looked down on because Wichita State “wasn’t that good.” All season while they were winning games this year, a lot of people wondered if they were really that good because they weren’t really beating anyone good. Suddenly, Kentucky beats them and they were a legit #1 seed and one of the best teams in the country? Got it. With Kentucky being an 8 seed and no one really knowing if Wichita State was for real or not, maybe this was just an evenly matched game between two average teams. But with all of the hype because of an undefeated team playing “mighty” Kentucky, perhaps the game was overblown just a bit? Maybe Wichita State is the SEC equivalent of an LSU or Arkansas? But of course it was seen as “the best game of the tournament” since there were a lot of points scored. That works.
When it comes down to player matchups, it is almost even to me. I give Kentucky the advantage at point guard with the way that Andrew Harrison has been playing. I give Louisville the advantage at shooting guard with Russ Smith. Dakari Johnson is talented, but Stephan Van Treese can hold his own with him and keeps so many rebounds alive that I can’t pick either one of them. Then the two other matchups could be where the game is won or lost. Montrezl Harrell and Julius Randle will obviously be a big matchup. If either of these two get into quick foul trouble, the whole game could change. Also, Luke Hancock and James Young is a toss-up to me. If one of those two gets left open during the game, that could be the difference.
Now in saying all of that and going through the matchups position by position, I don’t think it really matters that much because I think Louisville will mainly play zone and matchup zone, not man-to-man. So you can say all you want that Kentucky has the advantage when it comes to man-to-man, but that goes out the window if Louisville is in a zone or mixing up defenses.
In the end, I will go with the experience of Louisville and Rick Pitino. I think the focus and determination of Russ Smith and Luke Hancock will carry the Cards through this game.
My score prediction: Louisville 70 – Kentucky 65
P.S. My adrenaline is pumping just thinking about a game being that close tonight.
Go Cards! Beat Kentucky!