A Journey to the NCAA Tournament that started with a Dunk in Middle School

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One night back in November of 1988 at a Middle School gym in Owenton Kentucky a much younger version of myself was playing an 8th grade basketball game… the coach had just drawn up a play in which I would get the in-bounds pass and have a chance to score. My heart was pounding as I made my move and caught the ball. I remember spinning past the kid who was guarding me and breaking away in the open court as the crowd went wild.

I made the lay-up and began my celebration but immediately realized something wasn’t right. The reaction of coach Reynolds was odd and why wasn’t my team on this end of the floor with me…? You can imagine the horror when I figured out that I had just made a wide-open lay-up on the opponent’s end of the court. Turns out the crowd was going wild trying to get me to stop.

Fast forward to a night in November of 2011 in a Middle School gym… a 13 yr. old Carson Williams was playing an 8th grade basketball game when he came flying through the air and completed an alley-Oop dunk like you would see at the college level. That dunk would be the beginning of an incredible basketball journey for Carson Williams. That journey will come to a culmination in Indianapolis when Carson and his NKU team take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament Friday night.

I told you about my big middle school moment because that was more of the norm when it comes to the athletic prowess of a 13-yr. old where I grew up. Don’t get me wrong there have been a lot of good athletes come from Owen County but nothing like Carson Williams. You just don’t see too many 13yr old’s making plays like the one in the video above and there aren’t many 18-yr. old’s who could pull it off either.

In small rural areas, it’s hard sometimes for kids like Carson to get the attention they deserve. The AAU programs have really helped but it still isn’t easy to get on the right teams and get on the right courts. And when you do get on the right team and the right court you must take advantage of the opportunity.

Carson took advantage of the opportunity and dunked his way through the AAU ranks and landed a spot on the Lexington based Kentucky Travelers basketball team. The Travelers are a Nike sponsored AAU team who play in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League. Carson had his needle moving performance in AAU while at an event in Virginia back in May of 2014. That weekend Carson was 1-1 3pt, 22-38 FG 58%, 16-24 FT 67%, had 23 Rebs, 2 Assts, 3 Stls, 2 Blks, and 61 points. It was after this weekend in Virginia that scouts really started to take notice of the hometown kid.

There were several articles written that mentioned Carson’s AAU breakout weekend but probably none bigger than the ESPN Insider folks who called him one of the “Biggest Sleepers” of the class. In that article, they said:

Biggest sleeper
Carson Williams: He is a strong and athletic wing and could be a very skilled 4 at the next level depending on future team and scheme. He plays hard, can shoot to 19 feet and will dunk on you if you are not paying attention. He had 21 in Kentucky Travelers’ loss to Team United (N.C.). The 6-5 small forward can be a mid-major stud or a great role player at a high-major school in the 2016 class.

It was his time in the AAU that really helped him get the important notoriety but Carson Williams also dunked his way to a very successful run at Owen County high school setting records that will last generations. He helped his team win a lot of games and a lot of District championships including a few trips to the All-A State semifinals. With the help of Williams, the Rebels basketball team was considered one of the best in the state even ranked in the top 10 of some polls. Carson never got the chance to play in the state’s biggest game but he did win Kentucky’s highest basketball honor the title of “Mr. Basketball”.

This past summer Carson’s journey landed him in the Derby Festival Basketball Classic. It is one of the premiere all-star games in the country and has seen many greats come through it. Carson had a great showing at this event and was a semifinalist in the dunk contest. It was a great night of celebration for all that he had accomplished as a high school player. I was proud to tell the other media court-side that he was from my hometown.

Carson Williams decided to continue his basketball journey at Northern Kentucky University. And he has been that mid-major stud in his first college season that all those scouts said he would be. He earned Horizon League freshman of the week honors a few times and has become an important part of the Horizon League Tournament Champion Norse basketball team.

Carson said that he chose to go to Northern Kentucky to help build the newly Division 1 program into a dominate player in the Horizon League. He said that he wanted to help them get to the NCAA Tournament. In year number one its mission accomplished.

There are a lot of great college basketball players that fall short of the dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament. Friday night Carson Williams will be representing all the years of hard work and dedication that it takes to achieve such a goal while overcoming the odds of coming from such a rural area. It also takes a bit of luck. But good things happen to good people and you won’t find a better young man.

Carson will be the first player from Owen County to make it to the NCAA Tournament during the modern era and only the second ever. He will be representing all the folks that grew up there. Everyone has followed along on his journey and has a lot of pride for his accomplishments. One of the reasons he went to NKU was so his family, friends and community could come to his college games. It’s only about an hour from Owenton to Highland Heights as the crow flies.
Carson brought a lot of hometown spirit back to those Owen County school gyms and that spread throughout the community. It also spread to folks from there that live all over the country.

I reached out to Carson Williams and his family and asked them what it meant to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Carson’s Mother Heidi Williams:

“Some people questioned his decision to go to NKU but we felt like that with the new coach and the move to the Horizon league that it was a good fit and they may make it to the tournament but we never dreamed it would be this soon. It’s been very exciting and fun. He’s had a great deal of support from family, friends and Rebel Nation and I’m glad the community is so excited about the tournament. Carson has worked very hard for the past 14 years and it’s great to see him and his teammates get to enjoy this.”

NKU Freshman Carson Williams:

“Most every young basketball player dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament and I was no different. It means a lot to me to have that dream become a reality especially considering the countless hours of hard work that I’ve put in to help me get to this position. With that being said, no matter how good or popular the team we play is I don’t approach this as anything other than just another game.”

Many of the same folks that were in that Middle School gym the night Carson had that big dunk will be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday night. And the folks who can’t make it will be tuned in to watch their hometown boy fulfilling yet another dream. That kid who put the ball in the wrong basket will be there too. I love being a Carson Williams fan and watching him play takes me back to my younger days. I didn’t have an ounce of the ability but at one time I did have a similar dream.

I wrote this week about the special moments we often see during March Madness. It is three weeks where real life dramas play out during a College Basketball Tournament. For Carson Williams, his family, his fans, Owen County and NKU Friday night will be that special moment. Good Luck Carson! Good Luck NKU!

March Madness is also about the Moments

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College basketball fans all over the country are in a basketball frenzy. Making plans to go see their teams chase the dream, filling out their brackets and planning their excuse for missing work this week. It really is March Madness. But along with this Madness there are many special moments made.

We’ve all seen these moments and even been a part of them. It’s the occasion where real life becomes a part of the game. We all love to see our favorite team win but nothing is more compelling than to see some of these real life dramas play out during the NCAA Tournament. Moments when folks overcome real life adversity, moments of great personal triumph, moments that bring people together and moments that bring people real joy.

If you aren’t a Louisville Basketball fan chances are that you will forget who the 2013 National Champion was. But there isn’t a college basketball fan that will forget how that team rallied around one of their fallen brothers. The moment when they lowered the basket to let Kevin Ware cut that net folks all over the country were cutting it with him.

And as a fan how great was it to see Tim Henderson hit those three point shots. What a moment for that young man. And I’ll never forget how happy I was for Luke Hancock getting to play the best basketball of his life in front of his ailing father. And there wasn’t a father among us who couldn’t relate to the pride Mr. Siva had cheering for his son and how he had overcome his own adversity through his son’s faith. We all felt great joy in watching that team win a championship.

On Friday I’m looking forward to heading to Indianapolis for a college basketball smorgasbord. I’m going to watch four basketball games that will feature three different basketball teams from Kentucky. I’m also looking forward to that moment that Moment when my Cardinals make their return to the NCAA Tournament again after a post season ban and that moment when Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball NKU’s Carson Williams takes the NCAA Tourney floor for the first time. Carson is only the second player from my humble hometown of Owenton Kentucky to play in the Big Dance. That entire community and everyone from there have followed this young man’s journey. Friday will be a culmination of the pride we all have for him.

There is going to be a lot of great basketball played over the next three weeks. And there are going to be many more special moments made. Don’t get all caught up in the wins and losses of it all and miss out on some of the real life inspiration that can come from it. Don’t miss the “Feel Good” of it all. I wish each of you a great March Madness. Enjoy it! Go Cards!

Senior Day Salute…

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We have reached the part of the college basketball season where teams are winding up the regular season and ramping up for the post season tournaments. Years of hard work hang in the balance as seniors across the country near the end of their college basketball careers, and programs all over the country are having their Senior Night/Day ceremonies. On Saturday, the University of Louisville will honor three players for their contributions to the program. On Saturday, seniors David Levitch, Mangok Mathiang and grad transfer Tony Hicks will lace em up for the last time in that locker room, will come charging out of that tunnel to the alma mater for the last time, and will get the love and admiration from the Yum Center crowd for the last time.

Ceremonies like on Saturday are part of the process that allows closure for the seniors and a passing of the torch to the underclassmen, but in successful programs like the University Louisville the tradition never graduates. This program is rich and vibrant because many groups of seniors have cared enough to give their very best. There are still many chapters that have yet to be written, but the 2017 basketball seniors have added to the outstanding tradition of the Louisville program. David and Mango have been a part of an AAC Regular Season Championship, AAC Tournament Championship, Sweet 16, Elite 8, and have helped the program win 104 games. Tony Hicks had some big shoes to fill following two great grad transfers from last season. He has battled injury and struggled to find his place but has kept at it and contributed in some wins this season. These guys aren’t done either as all will play a big part in the post season.

The walk-on spot at the University of Louisville has become synonymous with passion, heart and determination. Coach Pitino has used this roster spot to find local kids who have dreamed of playing for the Cardinals and give them the opportunity to fulfil that dream. David Levitch played at North Oldham high school and has said that Louisville is “where he always wanted to play” and that it was his dream school. He said that the best basketball advice given to him was “always work to get better”. He followed that advise and has got better every season and earned himself a scholarship. The effort that David has always displayed when he got his playing time is what has stood out to me. The young man has one gear and that is “go”. He is unselfish and the total team player. It has been fun watching him succeed.

A foot injury provided him a red-shirt year and it seems like Mango Mathiang has been on campus for 10 years. He has always been the guy on the team that provided a lighter side of things making his team-mates laugh. In the serious nature of high profile college athletics that is a necessary thing to have. He has had his ups and his downs and like with every player that comes through the program we have watched him grow up both as a person and a player. He has played an important role in a lot of wins. Two moments that stand out to me was the free-throw he hit in 14-15 to send the East Region Championship game into overtime and the last second shot he hit to beat #2 Virginia in the season finale that same year. Mango said that the best basketball advice given to him was “if you really love basketball, work hard and you will make it.” Well you made it Mango. It’s been fun to watch your journey.

I’m happy that I will again be a part of the Senior Day ceremonies at the University of Louisville and this will be my fourth year covering the event. It’s always a special day and Saturday will continue that tradition. Hope the Cardinals can get a big win over Notre Dame and send these guys out on a winning note. Go Cards!

Signing Day Success for the Cardinals

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Coach Petrino has taken the winning culture left at the University of Louisville by the last coaching staff and capitalized on it. Over his first three seasons back he has won 26 games, 17 conference games and became bowl eligible for a 7th straight season this past year. All of this while facing some of the toughest scheduling in years. After a three game losing streak to end this past season it left folks with a lot more questions than it did answers, and it left Coach Petrino heading into year number four knowing that he had to make some changes in order to reach a new plateau. He didn’t waste any time in changing things around in his coaching staff hiring new offensive line coach Mike Summers and a new defensive coordinator in Peter Sirmon. The next step in the process was to address the recruiting needs of his team and yesterday he signed 22 new Cardinals that should do just that.

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The 2017 recruiting class could end up being the backbone of things reaching that next level for the Louisville Football program. Despite the results at the end of the season there has been a lot of success on the field at the University of Louisville and now that success is starting to spill over to the recruiting trail. Not only does Coach Petrino have a lot of wins in his back pocket he now can boast a Heisman Trophy winner. The Cardinals headed into this 2017 Class needing receivers, running backs and offensive linemen… The biggest grabs of this class are ESPN 300 WR Justin Marshall followed by WR’s Joshua Johnson and Corey Reed Jr. all out of the Peach State. ESPN 300 RB Colin Wilson was a big get along with three-star tight end Kemari Averett who will be another pass catcher. On the defensive side of things C.J. Avery is a top-10 safety and a tempo changer in the back-end. Three-star safety TreSean Smith is a steal out of Ohio and four-star corner Russ Yeast II could be a true difference-maker. The duo is joined in the secondary by some guys with a lot of upside in Lyn Strange, Kaheem Roach and Anthony Johnson. ESPN JC 50 Ronald Rudd along with 4* OT Toryque Bateman and 3* OG Cole Bentley are the biggest grabs along the line and this group is physically ready to contribute.

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Yesterday was a big success for Coach Petrino and his staff and I think that they will be able to carry some of that positive momentum into the spring. Cardinal fans also seem to still be very excited about what the future holds as it was announced to the crowd last night that season tickets were sold out and that there was a waiting list. The 2017 recruiting class had 14 three star signees and 7 four star signees… The class was ranked 29th by ESPN, 28th by Rivals, 32nd by 247 Sports and 31st by Scout. I do think that this class will be big help for years to come especially in helping establish a solid offensive line. I’m already looking forward to getting out to the practice fields this spring and seeing these new guys get after it.

One of the best things about National Signing Day is Louisville’s Signing Day party. I really like how the coaches get up and break down each guy in the class. It gives that inside look at just how they evaluate these guys throughout the process. Below is video of the Coaching staff breaking down the 2017 Class… Enjoy! GO CARDS!

Coach Petrino talks Russ Yeast & Caleb Chandler Signing Day Party 2017

OL Coach Mike Summers talks Ronald Rudd, Toryque Bateman & Mekhi Bectom Signing Day Party 2017

WR Coach Nick Petrino talks Malik Cunningham & Joshua Johnson Signing Day Party 2017

Secondary Coach Cort Dennison talks CJ Avery & Anthony Johnson Signing Day Party 2017

LD Scott talks Kam Jones & Malik Clark at Louisville Signing Day Party 2017

Coach Klenakis talks Kemari Averett & Cole Bentley at Louisville Signing Day Party 2017

Kolby Smith talks Colin Wilson & Mitch Hall at Signing Day Party 2017

Coach Lorenzo Ward, talks Kaheem Roach & Lyn Strange at Signing Day Party 2017

Coach Lonnie Galloway talks Justin Marshall & Corey Reed at Signing Day Party 2017

Coach Peter Sirmon talks Rodney Owens, Dorian Etherdge, & TreSean Smith Signing Day Party 2017

OL Coach Mike Summers Returns to Louisville

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With the way, the Louisville football team ended their season it left more questions than answers for Cardinal fans. Well maybe Coach Petrino is starting to answer some of those tough questions. We learned this past week that Todd Grantham had been replaced as defensive coordinator. That coaching shake-up was a little unexpected as most thought if anything it would be the offensive line coach Chris Klenakis that would be replaced. Today during the Duke game, we have now learned that will indeed happen. Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers will be the new head man for the guys in the trenches.

The Cardinals finished the season ranked 124th allowing 3.62 sacks a game and 95th in Tackles for loss allowed. When you have a guy as fast as Lamar Jackson being tackled so much in the back field you know that the O-line must be doing something wrong. After years of inconsistent play out of the O-Line position something had to be done to try and correct things. College football games are won and lost by what happens in the trenches. All of Louisville’s losses over the last three seasons can be attributed to the poor play up front. It was time to shake things up.

Enter Mike Summers who will try to get this unit better. Summers is no stranger to Louisville fans as he coached the offensive line here during Coach Petrino’s first time around. The Cardinals rushed for 2,974 yards in 03, 3,005 yards in 04, 2,278 yards in 05, and 2.411 in 06. In 2003, the Cards set a then-school rushing record while ranking fifth nationally in total offense (488.9) and 10th in rushing offense (228.2). Two offensive linemen, Jason Spitz and Travis Leffew, were All-Conference USA first-team in 2004 and All-Big East first team in 2005. During his tenure, Louisville won the 2004 Conference USA Championship and 2006 Big East title, and played in the 2007 Orange Bowl, 2006 Gator Bowl, 2004 Liberty Bowl and 2003 GMAC Bowl. The 2004 and 2006 Cardinal teams both finished ranked No. 6 by AP.

In 2006, his Louisville offensive line paved the way for the Cardinals offense, ranking second nationally (475.3), seventh in passing (290.0) and 12th in rushing (185.3). Three of his linemen (Renardo Foster, Kurt Quarterman and George Bussey) were All-Big East first-team picks. The 2004 line helped the Louisville offense set school records with 6,468 total yards, 3,005 rushing yards, 597 points and 47 rushing TDs. The Cardinals led the nation in both total offense (539.0) and scoring offense (49.8).

Coach Klenakis is a great guy and a great recruiter and will remain on the staff as the tight end coach. I’m glad that he is staying with the team but there had to be a change made with how this season ended and I think that Mike Summers is a good hire. He already has chemistry with Coach Petrino and has a proven pedigree. Welcome back to the Card Nation Coach Summers…

The Cardinals and their fans hope Citrus will get the bad taste out of their mouths

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The Louisville Football team carried a lot of momentum from the end of the 2015 season into 2016… The excitement of spring ball and summer practice was a catalyst to a 4-0 start to the regular season. We watched as our Cardinals made it to that 5th spot in the College Football Playoff Poll. The Cardinals started the regular season being compared to a red hot-rod going up and down the field in those chrome helmets but somewhere along the way the tires went flat.

Beating Florida State with the ESPN College Gameday crew on site was the zenith of the season and losing at home to arch rival Kentucky to end the regular season was the nadir. This team was making some of the same mistakes throughout but the effort in those early games masked some of those issues that cost this team in the end.

-The Cardinals offensive line gave up 3.25 sacks a game this season ranked 121 out of 128 NCAA FBS schools.

-The Cardinals averaged 7.75 penalties a game this season ranked 118 out of 128 NCAA FBS schools.

-The Cardinals had 21 fumbles this season ranked 128 out of 128 NCAA FBS schools.

-The Cardinals had 31 turnovers this season ranked 124 out of 128 NCAA FBS schools.

When this team got complacent they stopped getting better. This Louisville team never got better than they were during that 4-0 start to the season. In the final two games of the season the effort we had seen early on was nonexistent. These guys appeared to have lost all that great momentum they had in September and October… and will now have to dig deep to get it back.

The game on Saturday is important to the legacy of a great senior class, it is important for the guys who came to Louisville for their last chance, it is important to Cardinal fans who deserve to see their team end the season with a win and the game on Saturday is important to regain some positive momentum headed into next season. The attitudes in the weight room and on that practice field next spring and summer will be a lot different coming off a Bowl win as opposed to three straight losses. There is a lot of discussion around this time of year about how much these Bowl games really matter… for the Cardinals and their fans it’s the only thing that matters now.

Louisville will be making its 21st bowl appearance when they face LSU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and looking for its sixth bowl win in the last eight Bowl games. The Cardinals offense enters the Bowl game averaging 45.3 points per game with 256.8 rushing yards and 302 passing yards per game. Having won 14 of his last 18 starts our Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is completing 57.6% of his passes for 3390 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Jackson has rushed for 1538 yards and 21 touchdowns. Brandon Radcliff has added 877 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns for the Cardinals. James Quick has caught 42 passes for 688 yards and 6 touchdowns, while Cole Hikutini has caught 49 passes for 656 yards and 8 scores. This Louisville offense will be facing a very good defense on Saturday. The biggest key will be the offensive line. Lamar can’t win this side of the ball alone. It’s going to take a balanced attack. That means time for plays to develop and open running lanes. Coach Klenakis’s guys were able to rise to the occasion last year in the Music City Bowl. Can they do it again?

The Louisville defense is giving up 23.3 points per game with 110 rushing yards and 206.3 passing yards per game. Leading this unit is Keith Kelsey with 81 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack, Stacy Thomas with 74 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 1 sack and Chucky Williams with 45 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 3 interceptions. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Zykiesis both have 61 tackles on the season. The Cardinals defense will be without sack leader James Hearns but still have Devonte Fields coming off the edge. This unit will be playing with a lot of emotion. They will be playing without one of their defensive leaders in Hearns and it will be the last time a lot of these guys will be wearing a Cardinal uniform. I think Coach Grantham will have them ready.

LSU lost 2 of their last 4 games and finished tied for 2nd in the SEC West. The LSU offense is averaging 28.3 points per game with 238.1 rushing yards and 187.6 passing yards per game. QB Danny Etling isn’t anywhere near as good as the guy he will be facing but gets the job done completing 60% of his passes for 1906 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. The Tigers leading rusher is big powerful running back Derrius Guice. He has rushed for 1249 yards and 14 touchdowns. Their speed back Leonard Fournette will not play. Their leading receivers are Malachi Dupre who has caught 34 passes for 454 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Travin Dural who has 28 catches for 280 yards and 1 score. Who knows what to expect from this LSU offense. What will it do to this unit’s chemistry with Fournette not playing? Or will affect them at all?

This LSU team can put points on the board but it is their top ranked defense they rely on. The LSU defense is giving up 16.4 points per game with 121.8 rushing yards and 201.2 passing yards per game. The leaders of this unit are Linebacker Kendell Beckwith with 91 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 1 sack, Linebacker Duke Riley with 85 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and 1 interception. Safety Jamal Adams has 70 tackles, and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux has 58 tackles. Defensive end Arden Key leads this unit with 10 sacks. I think we will get this units best shot on Saturday. A good defense takes pride in being able to stop great players. They have their chance to shut down a pretty good one Saturday.

This game comes down to very good offense vs a very good defense. There will be a lot of speed and athleticism on both sides of the field but it will all come down to emotion. There will be a team that wants it more. LSU can lose this game and rely on the benefit of that SEC bias to be right back in playoff conversations again next season. If Louisville loses this game they will start next year with a very different narrative. The Cardinals need this game more and if they play like they need it more they should be able to secure the victory. If they come out uninspired like they did in the two games to end the regular season it will be a long off season.

It’s gut check time for the Louisville football program. They have faced a lot of adversity on and off the field over the last couple of months. Sure, individual awards are great and it was special for the program and the fans getting to celebrate a Heisman Trophy. But in the end football is a team sport and this team needs a win. Let’s hope the Citrus Bowl gets the bad taste out of our mouths and we can head into next season on a high note. GO CARDS!

The 50th Meeting Between the Cards & Cats

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We are just a few weeks removed from the Cats and Cards doing battle on the gridiron to end the regular season of college football. On Wednesday night they will take the battle to the basketball court. This week we have flown our flags a little higher and wore our gear with that little extra boost of pride. This is the Cards and the Cats and it just doesn’t get any bigger in college basketball.

“Two elite teams meet once again, eternal bragging rights (at least for another year) Hall of Fame coaches who can’t stand each other. It’s not always a pretty watch, but it’s compelling TV and the best soap opera in the sport at the moment.” -Sports Illustrated

It is the eve of one of the best rivalries in college sports… If you grew up in the state of Kentucky then you chose your side very early in your life. I was singing the Louisville fight song to my son on the night he was born. I picked a side 30 years ago and have never regretted my decision. I love my Cardinals and I love this rivalry. Rivalries are what define sports and every competition needs a great rivalry. We have one of the best rivalries in all of sports and it deserves the credit. The Rivalry has given us many enjoyable moments and now it’s time to have another.

This will again be a highly anticipated Battle of the Bluegrass with both teams ranked within the top 10. It has been the Cats who have won the last 8 out of 10 in this battle head-to-head including 4 straight, but when looking at their entire body of work these teams have had similar success in the last 30 years. A series that started in 1913 these old rivals will meet for the 50th time on Wednesday night. Kentucky holds the all-time lead in this series 34-15.

NCAA Final Fours

Kentucky – 17 (Tied 2nd all-time)

Louisville – 10 (Tied 6th all-time)

NCAA Tournament Championships

Kentucky – 8 (2nd all-time)

Louisville – 3 (Tied 7th all-time)

NCAA Tournament Appearances

Kentucky – 54 (1st all-time)

Louisville – 41 (5th all-time)

Kentucky beat North Carolina 103-100 in Las Vegas in its last game as Malik Monk scored a UK freshman record 47 points and De’Andre Fox totaled 24 points and 10 assists. The Wildcats are among the top five nationally in scoring (3rd in the nation, 95.2 ppg), assists (4th, 19.9 apg), scoring margin (4th, +23.5), offensive rebounds (5th, 15.7 per game), and blocked shots (5th, 7.1 bpg). Fox is eighth in the nation averaging 7.2 assists. Fox and Bam Adebayo were preseason All-SEC first team selections, while Monk and Isaiah Briscoe were second team All-SEC preseason picks. Kentucky is No. 9 in the RPI, No. 4 in the Sagaring Ratings and No. 4 by Ken Pomeroy through Dec. 18.

Louisville leads the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency through Dec. 18. The Cardinals are fifth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.359), 11th in scoring defense (59.4 ppg), fourth in blocked shots (7.2 per game), 22nd in three-point field goal defense (.287), 24th in turnover margin (+4.6), 11th in rebound margin (+9.3), fifth in rebounds per game (45.0), third in offensive rebounds per game (16.1) and 15th in scoring margin (+19.1). Six of the Cardinals 11 opponents this season have scored under 60 points. Eight of Louisville’s 11 opponents this season have shot below 36 percent from the field and four have shot below 32 percent. Eastern Kentucky shot 35.6 percent in UofL’s last game when the Cardinals limited the Colonels to 16 first-half points. It was the third time UofL has held a team under 20 points in a half this season.

This game as most of them have in the Pitino/Calipari era will come down to good offense vs good defense… The best way to beat Kentucky this season is to play great lock-down defense against their back-court and not let Fox have his way in the lane and not let Monk have many open looks from deep. The Louisville guards also need to brace up in the face of the Wildcats’ defensive harassment. Kentucky still has a lot of length and talent in their front-court but unlike previous seasons this Louisville team has plenty of talent and height of their own to challenge them here. According to Kenpom’s advance analytics the Cards are #9 in effective height and #19 in average height. The cats are #16 in effective height and #59 in average height.

The Cardinals X-factors on Wednesday night will be the front-court players. If Anas, Mango, Johnson and Spalding can play great defense and grab those offensive/defensive rebounds I really like our chances. They have to neutralize the Kentucky bigs. I also think our bench scoring will come into play in this one. There are always a lot of fouls called in these games. The Cardinals have 327 bench points already this season. Per Kenpom Louisville is ranked 54th in bench minutes. I’ve heard them mock David Levitch and Ryan McMahon… but so did the experts before Tim “Wichita” Henderson led the Cardinals to the Championship game in 2013.

This will be one of the biggest tests of the year for both of these teams. Each has to play to their strengths and attack the others weakness, but as I mentioned above with the player always coming out of nowhere there will be a scenario play out that nobody expected. These rivalry games are packed with emotion and that along with the home crowd will also factor in. I’m looking forward to a great game and an opportunity to knock off this Kentucky group. It has been too long. Should be another great one in the series… Go Cards!

Lamar Jackson Leaps His Way into Cardinal Lore

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There have been many great athletes come through the Louisville football program each leaving their mark etched in Cardinal Lore… Young men who make the decision to come be a part of the Cardinal family and let us all be a part of this very important chapter in their lives. We share their highs and their lows and feel proud of them when they succeed.

This season Lamar Jackson left a pretty big mark on the Louisville program and leaped his way into the hearts of the College football world. He won over thousands with his athletic ability and electrifying moves on the football field, but it was the humble, shy, respectful, decent young man off the field that won me over.

When he wasn’t beating himself up with those way too low grades he gave himself after every game he was praising his teammates and coaches. A guy so soft spoken that you had to sometimes struggle to hear in a post-game locker-room, but one who had just been ferocious on the football field.

Lamar Jackson would take the time to sign a young girls cast or to give a kid his wrist band, but did everything he could to avoid the fanfare. Back in September I covered the very first football game of the season. Lamar had 8 touchdowns, 286 yards passing and 119 yards rushing. I took the picture above and after the game against Charlotte the writing was on the wall. But I digress…

After the post-game interviews wrapped up that night in the locker-room I gathered my things and headed to my car. As I walked out Lamar Jackson walked out of the player’s door ahead of me. As he headed out of the gates in front of me there were several groups of fans and players acquaintances. I noticed that Lamar put his ear phones in, pulled his hood up and headed towards Floyd Street.

I always park in the lot over by Lynn Stadium and as I watched Lamar walk down a low lit side walk towards campus I thought to myself here’s a kid who just put his name in a lot of sports conversations walking all alone back to his dorm just like the average college student getting out of a night class.

Lamar didn’t stop by the fanfare that night to accept all of that praise; he didn’t go get into a flashy sports car and drive off with a car load of co-eds… That’s not who Lamar Jackson is.

Lamar Jackson is an unbelievable athlete and I love watching him spin… leap and dive like those characters I played with as a kid on my Nintendo. But nothing impresses me more than how someone with all that ability can be so humble.

Last night Lamar Jackson was awarded the biggest individual prize in college football. He won the Heisman Trophy by gathering all those amazing stats and by being a phenomenal athlete. He earned it… But it was that soft spoken humble guy who clumsy with his words gave all of the credit to his coaches, friends and family who deserved it.

Now back to that Cardinal Lore… my son is 5 years old and I already have him very active in the Cardinal universe. I’ve got to share some pretty cool moments with him already. Last season when he got to stand beside me on the field in the Georgia Dome, this season when Coach Galloway called him over and talked with him during spring practice… I’m trying to create tradition and those memories for him to pass down to his kids someday.

Last night he was with me celebrating the Football programs first Heisman Trophy and I had him out taking a picture with me in front of the Lamar Jackson tribute at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium at 11:30. That’s good stuff folks. And we owe it all to those great Cardinal football players who have helped us make those memories. And we owe it to Lamar Jackson.

Lamar Jackson has added an amazing story to Cardinal Lore and I’m sure it will not be the last. Hopefully we’ll all be right back here a year from now doing this all again. Archie Griffin is the only person to win the Heisman Trophy two times… Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes said of Griffin, “He’s a better young man than he is a football player, and he’s the best football player I’ve ever seen”. Does that remind you of anyone you know..?

Thank You #8

Twas The Night Before the Heisman

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As Louisville Football fans we have seen the program soar to prominence over the years. This can be attributed to great administration, great coaches and great players. I remember watching Teddy Bridgewater and saying to myself that it would be a long time before we had a program changing player like that again. I feel like Teddy bridged the gap to help Louisville be a legitimate contender in the college football world. When Teddy was winning a Big East Title with one arm and on one leg to give the Cardinals a berth to the BCS and then shredded the Florida defense to win the Sugar Bowl he was creating a winning legacy that would live on even after he was gone.

Now here we are three years after Teddy Bridgewater threw his last touchdown pass in a Cardinal uniform getting ready to watch the Louisville Football program win it’s very first Heisman Trophy. Lamar Jackson has said Bridgewater is a reason he ended up looking at the Louisville program. While I was thinking to myself years ago, that we wouldn’t see another player like this in a long time little did I know that the next man up was just a few years away from taking over that role. Where Teddy bridged that gap Lamar Jackson has helped the program take a giant leap on to the College Football stage.

Behind the raw athleticism, electrifying play-making and his will to win Lamar Jackson had Louisville in the national conversation and playoff picture for most of the season. Now for those efforts he has himself in a position to win the biggest individual prize in college football. He has been on a whirlwind tour over the last couple of days picking up different hardware along the way but nothing will be as sweet as hoisting that 20-pound bronze statue on Saturday night. The excitement level has reached an all-time high as Cardinal fans show their support by bathing their homes and businesses in Red light for the QB sensation. We all know what this means and how important it is. Especially for that winning legacy to continue.

I had a fan share this great little poem over on the Fan Page and I think it sums up well how excited we all are.
Thanks for sharing Susan.

Twas the night before Heisman and all through the street,
the houses lit red for the man with the feet.

The Cardinal player who can do it all
Now waits in New York for his name to be called!

Fans wearing RED to support number 8,
Lamar is a player with humble, great fate!

So raise up your L’s and keep the faith PROUD
With hope that the Heisman will land with “our” CROWD!

#L1C4LIT – Susan Blake Turner

College Football Playoff was Not In the Cards

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Just a few weeks ago we were buzzing about the Cardinal’s Playoff chances and counting down the hours until the Playoff Rankings show came on. Louisville climbed to that 5th spot and it became a real possibility that they could still do this. The excitement reached another level. For the first time in program history the Cardinals had a College Football Playoff shot and a Heisman front runner. The hype swirling around the Louisville program was astounding. There was extra coverage on ESPN, extra coverage from national print media, and social media back-and-forth between players, fans and media. It’s the kind of exposure that every major program wants to achieve. The run that the Louisville football team had during the regular season was special. But the kind of pressure that comes along with that will make a great team shine or expose leaks in the foundation.

Unfortunately we had leaks in the foundation…

This weekend I sent out a tweet that I thought the players had let the hype ruin their season. After having a few days to process it all I still think it played a part. The extra posing, the extra gestures… a lot of stuff we weren’t seeing from these guys when the season started. I really do believe that these guys started reading their headlines. Somewhere in all of that complacency set in. When this team played hungry and with something to prove it masked their inability to play clean football. When they got complacent they weren’t able to overcome all of those turnovers, penalties and mistakes. This Louisville Football team is really good. They have explosive playmakers on both the defensive and offensive side of the football field with talent everywhere. But they have turned the ball over 31 times and had 93 penalties along the way. The Cardinals had 19 penalties and 7 turnovers over the last two games.

The offensive line accounted for many of those penalties and allowed 39 sacks this season. When the national spotlight was on them at Houston they gave up 11 sacks. This group was out-manned for most of the season as they faced some very good defensive units. Physical struggles turn into mental struggles resulting in a complete breakdown. There was some improvement this season but this unit still needs a major upgrade to compete for a national title.

Lamar Jackson is such a fierce competitor that sometimes he tries to do too much. Over the last couple of weeks this has become more apparent. Trying to make the play himself while not making the right read, diving for the extra yard while not protecting the ball and throwing into tight coverage all trying to make something happen for his team. This young man is an incredible athlete, but is still very raw. I’m reminded of the story about the old bull and the young bull standing on top of the hill. Lamar is going to learn that if he walks down the hill he can be more effective sometimes. Lamar Jackson will mature a lot as a result of this season. He is going to take that Heisman honor as a personal challenge to live up to what that standard is. It will help him be a more complete player next season. Yes we have him again next season…

The Louisville defense was just good enough but good enough didn’t cut it in the 3 losses. I think some of this responsibility falls on the players and some of it does fall on the coaches. The Louisville staff was out coached at Houston and against Kentucky in my opinion. It’s up to the coaches to have the players in the right spot so they can make the play. That didn’t happen at times. We have seen more big plays on this defense in the last two weeks than we’ve seen in two seasons. I think the defense got complacent and lost some of their intensity. They gave up 943 yards in the last two games and the defensive line only had 1 sack and 9 tackles for loss over the last two weeks. This group can say they had a pretty good regular season but sometimes just being good isn’t good enough.

I cover these guys from summer workouts, thru spring football and into the season. I know nobody in that lockerroom took failure lightly. They are going to get back to work and be ready for the Bowl game in a few weeks and will finish strong. Losing the playoff hopes and the Governor’s Cup over the last two weeks was rough. Putting it into perspective just being in the playoff picture was great for the program and we had held that Cup for 5 years. The program will also have its first ever Heisman Trophy winner. Did I mention that Heisman Trophy winner will be back next season?

Next year we will be back in that playoff picture and we will take that Cup back. Go Cards!