I don’t have much time this morning, but I had to get up some sort of pregame post about the game today. This one will focus around a particular question I have been asked far too many times this week: “Do you think Louisville has a chance on Saturday?” Um, yes. If you know anything about rivalry games, particularly this one, you wouldn’t even have to ask that question.
This isn’t exactly a 1 seed against a 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This is the #4 team in the country on their home floor against the #1 team and in-state rival. Now I am well aware that this Kentucky team is supposed to be unlike any other that college basketball has ever seen. I just posted yesterday that their starting 5 is taller than every starting 5 in the NBA, which is pretty remarkable to me. But one of the two NBA teams that were tied for being the tallest were the Philadelphia 76ers, who are 4-24 this season. Height doesn’t mean everything.
Kentucky hasn’t just won their games. They have run through opponents like a freight train. They embarrassed Kansas early in the season and then reminded people that UCLA hasn’t been relevant in college basketball since the mid 90’s. Their closest game this season was a 56-46 win over…the Columbia Lions. How that makes sense, I don’t know.
Louisville also enters the game undefeated and playing good basketball. And even at #4 in the country, not too many people are paying attention to the Cards. It is basically “Kentucky, Duke, and everyone else.” Which I am perfectly OK with. I don’t care at all about recognition during the season. You still have to play the games. Play your game on the court and show why you should be talked about. Louisville has a big chance to do that today.
So back to the original question. Does Louisville have a chance today? I always think back to a few particular examples that show just how unpredictable this rivalry can be. I am not going to do a lot of research here and look at every game they have played, but I’ll just mention the ones that I can recall in my head.
The first one comes in the 1997-98 season. Denny Crum’s Louisville Cardinals went 12-20 that season and 5-11 in Conference USA (OK that is the only part I had to look up). They lost to teams like Charlotte, Saint Louis, South Florida, and UAB. However, one of those twelve wins were against Kentucky 79-76. They won this game at Rupp. Kentucky would go on to win the National Championship that season while going 35-4.
The next example is the year that Edgar Sosa hit the game-winning 3 pointer at Freedom Hall. One of the most exciting finishes in the history of the rivalry, maybe the most exciting since it include a game winning shot with just a couple of seconds left. If you fast forward to how the season turned out, Louisville ended up as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky went to the NIT. In a game that the Cards were clearly the more talented team by a wide margin, they only won by 3 at home.
In Rick Pitino’s only victory over John Calipari while he has been at UK, the Cards won 80-77 in the 2012-13 season. It was just a couple of years ago, and obviously I watched the whole thing, but this was one of those weird games that I just don’t recall much of it. But again, Louisville went on to be the #1 overall seed in the tournament. Kentucky went to the NIT. The Cards won the National Championship and Kentucky lost to Robert Morris (just 1 guy) in the first round of the NIT. Yet when they played in the regular season, it was only a 3 point victory on Louisville’s home floor.
Sometimes when people ask me if I think Louisville has a chance, I kind of want to respond and say “No shot at all, they shouldn’t even play the game.” I mean what do you expect me to say? Even if Louisville or Kentucky is terrible and the other team is #1 in the country, I am always going to say that the terrible team has a chance. This game is just different. No game before today matters. How they finish this season doesn’t matter when it comes to today.
If you break down the college basketball season into three mini-seasons (non-conference, conference, NCAA Tournament), this is pretty much the National Championship for these teams for the non-conference schedule. Unless you want to count the game that Louisville plays against Long Beach State on Tuesday. I could see where you would count that as well.
Like I said, short on time so I have to head out. I stumbled upon tickets yesterday so I will be in the KFC Yum! Center this afternoon. (Thanks Russ, Suzette, Addi, Cami, and Lil 🙂 )
I know that Kentucky is supposed to win. I have just seen too many things to believe that it is a foregone conclusion. I KNOW that Louisville has a chance, and I BELIEVE that the Cards win the game today. Louisville forces turnovers and gets a couple of Kentucky’s big guys in foul trouble with over the back calls. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones lead the way for Louisville.
Cards win 70-67.
Go Cards. Go Krogering.