Big Blue Links for (a big) Saturday:
- Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal on how the Cats and Cards aren’t local.
College-sports rivalries have always been fueled by fans who remember insults that occurred before the current crop of players was born. But as college sports blossom into a national obsession, fewer and fewer players at blue-blood programs are locals. An analysis of Kentucky’s and Louisville’s rosters over the last 40 years shows that Ware’s remarks were statistically accurate. In the last 10 years, 27% of Kentucky and Louisville’s players came from the state, the lowest number of the last four decades.
- Mark Maloney of the Herald-Leader reports on Rick Pitino saying the players cannot invest in the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry like the fans do.
“So it’s a big game, but I coached eight years at Kentucky and I’m going on 13 (at Louisville); I’ve been to 21 contests. There’s only been one BIG game for me, and that was when they took our national championship away two years ago (in the Final Four). That was a big thing for us. We had a shot at a national championship and they took it away. … This is just a very big game on your schedule, and you should enjoy it. But it’s much more important for the fans than it is for the players.”
- ESPN has some stats to know for today’s game.
Kentucky also needs its young guards to be able to handle the swarming press and backcourt defense of Louisville if it wants to add to its recent run of success against its rival. The Cardinals force turnovers on 26.6 percent of their opponents’ possessions, fourth-best in Division I, and average nearly 10 steals per game. Louisville takes advantage of those miscues, converting them into more than 21 points per game, which leads all major-conference teams.
- Jerry Tipton of the H-L reports that John Calipari wants the Cats to cut through the clutter.
In assessing his team, Calipari sounded like former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who famously responded to criticism of the U.S. war effort in Iraq by saying, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Kentucky (9-3) will play Louisville as the same freshman-oriented team that earlier lost to No. 2 Michigan State, No. 20 Baylor and No. 18 North Carolina by a combined 14 points.
- Ben Roberts of H-L says Pitino doesn’t like battling Calipari for one-and-dones.
Pitino recently lost a well-publicized, one-on-one battle with UK Coach John Calipari when five-star power forward Trey Lyles announced he would sign with the Cats over the Cards. Though most recruiting observers predicted Lyles to Kentucky, the news apparently caught U of L’s coach off guard. “I thought we were going to get Trey Lyles. It really shocked me that we didn’t get him,” Pitino said. “But it taught me one of my thousand lessons I’ve learned in the past two years.”
- My column says it doesn’t really matter how Pitino and Calipari build their programs, since both are successful.
“(There are) a hundred different ways of coaching, a hundred different ways of playing, how you approach this,” Calipari said Friday. “I mean, we’ve had four-year guys, too. We’ve had three-year guys. But we’ve also had guys that have been one-year guys, and the good news is our guys have gone to the league and done well.”
- Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports on how Pitino’s stumbles have made him better.
“I was ready to leave Kentucky,” Pitino said. “I was the only coach to leave Kentucky on a high note, without anything going wrong. I had eight years of Camelot; every single day was great. I don’t regret it because I learned so much in Boston. I learned why we failed; I learned how to do it better the next time. I learned about humility. I grew with the Celtics.”
- Tipton’s notes lead with fact a high NCAA Tournament seed could be at play today.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi sees no need to put make-or-break labels on the Kentucky-Louisville game in Rupp Arena. ”I think there’s a huge difference between ‘desperate’ and ‘desirous,’” he wrote in an email this week. “The truth is neither of these teams has done much out of conference (Louisville even less than Kentucky, in fact). And both would see their profiles enhanced significantly with a win.”
- Guy Ramsey writes for CoachCal.com on UK freshman Dominique Hawkins.
Hawkins, a Richmond, Ky., native, knows what he’s talking about because he grew up a UK fan. While he was home for Christmas, his mother reminded him of a UK-U of L game during his youth that gives some insight into the emotion woven into the fabric of the rivalry. “My mom just told me that I was crying one game,” Hawkins said. “I can’t really remember, but I think I was really little when I was crying that game.”
- Eric Crawford of WDRB makes his case for his Louisville-Kentucky pick.
THE CASE FOR LOUISVILLE. The Cards, over the past few games, have begun to understand a few things on defense. Their zone has been a bit better. Without Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, there has been a learning curve. But during the holiday break, with the opportunity to practice outside of the NCAA’s 20-hour rule, the Cards have had a chance to work on their defense. They’ve also had the ability to craft a game plan for Kentucky.
- Rick Bozich of WDRB on who needs it more.
This is not the Louisville-Kentucky basketball game we were fussing about in October. Not even close. Those were the days when Kentucky earned 27 first-place votes in the pre-season Associated Press college basketball and Louisville earned 14. They were ranked number one (UK) and number three (Cardinals). But that was only going to be a temporary thing. By the time both teams got to Rupp Arena on Dec. 28, they’d be ranked one and two. It was a temporary thing, all right.
- Tim Sullivan of the C-J says this game won’t be the final word on one-and-done.
The University of Kentucky’s head coach has nearly cornered the market on elite recruits, so much so that a coach as successful and competitive as Louisville’s Rick Pitino is reluctant to go head-to-head with him on a hotshot prospect. Yet the constant churn of Calipari’s program, where players arrive with the expectation they will soon be leaving, means UK is perpetually playing catch-up on the mental aspects of the game.
- Kyle Tucker of the C-J writes that Louisville is a big test and big opportunity.
As it stands, Kentucky (9-3) has slipped to No. 18 in the polls after losses to No. 5 Michigan State, No. 11 Baylor and No. 19 North Carolina. The Cardinals (11-1), ranked sixth in the Associated Press poll and fourth in the coaches poll, represent the Cats’ last chance for a marquee win before the start of conference play. “How many opportunities do we have in games like that?” Kentucky coach John Calipari wondered aloud Friday. “How many are we going to have from here on in?”
- UK athletes surpass 3.0 GPA for third straight semester.
- Brett Dawson of Cats Illustrated writes that Louisville gives UK another crack at a top-tier win.
So far, Kentucky hasn’t looked much like a top 10 team. Calipari admitted on Friday that his team isn’t “what everybody” — including he — predicted it was to start the season. “This is a team game,” Calipari said. “It’s not a collection (of players); it’s a team game. And we weren’t the kind of team — we’re only now beginning to be that kind of team.”
- Card Chronicle has the quotes from Rick Pitino and Russ Smith previewing the UK game.
Pitino: Julius Randle is such a unique talent. He can beat you in the post with that spin move, he can square you up and beat you with his front to the basket, and he can beat you in the air. They’re the best lob team in the country.
- Russ Smith on UK-U of L.
- Andrew Cassady of KSR says a tough schedule has UK ready.
One of the best factors in determining a team’s worth is their KenPom rating. Tomorrow the Cats will be taking on the highest rated KenPom team in Louisville who ranks 1st in offense and 6th in defensive efficiency. If the Cats are going to win they will indeed need to play like a team as they did earlier this year against Providence. That game they got a major performance from WCS who nearly got a triple double with 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 blocks.
- Seth Davis of SI.com picks UK to win a close one.
For reasons that escape me, Rick Pitino put together his schedule like a man whose program is in rebuilding mode as opposed to one that returned its core from a national championship team. The Cardinals’ only tough game was against North Carolina in at Mohegun Sun in Connecticut–and they played awfully in a 93-84 loss.
- Eric Lindsey writes for Cat Scratches about UK’s golden opportunity.
Those three losses to nationally ranked Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina came by a combined 14 points and away from the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. “They’re all top-10 teams,” Coach Cal said. “It’s pretty hard to beat those guys. And obviously we’re not — three minutes to go in all those games, it’s a one-point game and we were right there — we’re not ready to win those games yet. This team in February is not going to be what it is right now. Guys will get it.”
- Glenn Logan of A Sea of Blue on a writer’s surprise.
This is a worthy read, and even though there is nothing at all to surprise the Kentucky fan who reads this site or any one of several others like it, the response from Calipari’s former players seems to surprise the author a bit. I think he went into this expecting negative feedback from them — in particular the mercurial Cousins.
- Brian Rickerd of the State-Journal says it is size vs. experience.
To be more specific, Louisville guards Russ Smith and Chris Jones appear to have the potential to eat up Kentucky’s Harrison twins. I was wryly amused by the comment from Louisville-area radio host Jody Demling this week, who said: “I’m curious to see Louisville quicker guards against Kentucky’s slower, poutier guards.” But Andrew and Aaron Harrison came to UK this year rated as two of the 10 best prep players in the country, and they have the size at 6-foot-6 to give Smith and Jones trouble.
- Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk on the beauty of UK-U of L.
In fact, what makes the game so intriguing is the unknown. This is not an exaggeration: There is nothing that could happen in this game that would surprise me, save for Willie Cauley-Stein hitting 10 threes or Chane Behanan hitting all his free throws. Louisville is one of the best teams in the country. They are currently sitting at No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings, posting the nation’s most efficient offense while slotting in fifth in defensive efficiency.
Photo of Rick Pitino at last year’s Final Four by Associated Press
Links of interest