Same state. Super-rivals. Generations of bad blood, dating back to the 1980s and building arenas. This game means everything to them. Not only the players and coaches. Beyond the schools and the students and the fans and alumni. To say this game is a big deal to the whole state of Kentucky is still an understatement. The history, former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino is in the other locker room now. Truly, two great coaches in Pitino and John Calipari. The magnitude of this game is sky high, through the roof, and could be an instant classic.
Kentucky is a college basketball blue blood, its seven national titles second only to UCLA, while Louisville has a nice little tradition going with two national titles.
Both coaches were reminded Friday about a comment Calipari made back in October about Kentucky’s uniqueness, which sure sounded like it was a slap at Louisville.
“There’s no other state, none, that’s as connected to their basketball program as this one,” Calipari said then. “Because those other states have other programs.”
Asked about that exact comment Friday, Calipari said, “I didn’t say that,” explaining that what he meant was Kentucky fans are scattered across every inch of the state while Cardinals fans are more concentrated in and around Louisville.
“We sleep with the enemy in Louisville,” Pitino acknowledged. “We have many Louisville men and women that marry into Kentucky families. It’s very difficult to swallow, to see that happen.”
Pitino seemed to try to give Calipari the benefit of the doubt, saying the third-year Kentucky coach hasn’t been around long enough to really appreciate the depth of the rivalry.
But Peyton Siva, Louisville’s guard by way of Seattle, has been around the same amount of time as Calipari, and he sure seems to get it.
“For outsiders, I’d just say wear white,” he said, “so you can blend in.”
“It all started with the racial lines in Kentucky,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of the rivalry. “Now, no longer racially motivated. It’s just pure hatred.”
The Wildcats can out-score you and shut you down defensively. Six players average double-digit points and three average 7+ rebounds. This team nearly shoots 50% from the court, just under 40% from 3-point land, and a collective 73% from the free throw line. Kentucky is 30-2 with a stacked lineup with future NBA draft picks.
Kentucky comes into this game as the favorites, with the best team and player in college basketball. Freshman Anthony Davis is the Associated Press Player of the Year. He is the first Kentucky player to receive the award, and second freshman (Kevin Durant), which is voted on by national college basketball media members. Davis averages 14 points, 10 rebounds, 4.6 blocks, and a steal per game.
Louisville locks you down and is one of the better defensive teams in the country. What a run they are having, arguably the hottest team in college basketball for the past month. They also have six players that can score the basketball, all averaging 9+ per game. Four players average over a steal with Gorgui Dieng getting 3 blocks when they step on the floor. They grind out victories with effort on defense and they share the basketball.
Prediction: Kentucky is the favorite and deservedly so. But here, we’re pulling for Louisville because they are having a storied March Madness run and we like upsets!