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 Saturday 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.
If you have grown up in the state of Kentucky and you are a sports fan this rivalry has been a part of your life. I can’t say that for the last 29 years I have enjoyed all the constant back and forth between me and my friends that cheer for Kentucky. But 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.
“Two elite teams meet once again, eternal bragging rights (at least for another year), HoF 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
This will again be a highly anticipated Battle of the Bluegrass with both teams ranked within the top 25. It has been the Cats who have won the last 10 out of 12 in this battle head-to-head, 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 49th time on Saturday afternoon. Kentucky holds the all-time lead in this series 33-15.
Skal Labissiere (9.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG)
Tyler Ulis (12 PPG, 3.6 RPG)
Isaiah Briscoe (11.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG)
Alex Poythress (9.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG)
Jamal Murray (17.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG)
Marcus Lee (8.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG)
Derek Willis (5.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG)
Charles Matthews (3.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG)
Offense Adjustment efficiency 112.0 24th
Defense Adjustment efficiency 92.7 13th
Kenpom has Kentucky winning this game 71-70
The Wildcats are are shooting 47.1% from the field, 29.7% from beyond the arc, 67.4% from the free throw line and average 78.4 points a game. They are aggressive attacking the basket with their dribble-drive motion offense and rank among the top 25 in the nation in offensive rebound percentage. Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray are their most important players on the offensive side of floor.
Ulis is one of the more crafty guards that has ever played for Coach Calipari and that is saying a lot. He can create his own shots and is a very efficient offensive threat, but where he really excels is getting his teammates involved. He is so quick and getting into the lane that when defense comes help side he will dish to another player in scoring position. He has 53 assist on the season and averages 5.3 a game. Murray is their deadliest offensive threat and there isn’t a spot on the court where he can’t score. He is shooting 42% from the floor and almost 40% from beyond the arc. He has range for days. A guy who could be a big X-Factor for them Saturday is Alex Poythress. When engaged, he can affect the game on either end of the floor. He leads Kentucky in rebounding and, at times, displays a much-improved offensive game. He’s also effective in transition because he can gallop down the floor and is a target for lobs.
Kentucky plays man-to-man but haven’t done so aggressively enough during the first part of this season to suit Calipari. The Wildcats are dangerous on this end of the floor if amped up getting into passing lanes and harassing ball handlers. I suspect they’ll be amped up for their home crowd Saturday. They are allowing 65.6 points on 39.9 percent shooting from the field allowing 30.4 percent shooting from deep and forcing 13.8 turnovers per game.
The best way to beat Kentucky this season is to play great lock-down defense against their back-court and not let Ulis have his way in the lane and not let Murray 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. The Cardinals are allowing 55.9 points on 35.2 percent shooting from the field, allowing 29 percent shooting from deep and is forcing 15 turnovers per game. They are ranked 2nd in the nation in scoring defense.
Anytime you play Kentucky there is always talk about the one and done players and how they’ve had such an impact on this rivalry over the last 5 years. That won’t be the case on Saturday. It will be the done and one players Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Lee is averaging 17.3 points and 4.3 rebounds while Lewis is averaging 14.7 points and 2.8 assists. These guys have meant everything for Louisville this season and are a big reason why they are ranked 11th in the nation in scoring offense. It’s been a long time since Louisville fans have witnessed offensive output like this. The Cardinals X-factors on Saturday will be the front-court players. If Anas, Onuaku and Spalding can play great defense and grab those defensive rebounds I really like our chances. They have to neutralize the Kentucky bigs. I do 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 353 bench points already this season.
This will be one of the biggest test 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 a opportunity to knock off this Kentucky group. It has been too long. Should be another great one in the series… Go Cards!
The Beak Prediction:
Louisville 80 Kentucky 72