When it comes to college basketball's biggest rivalry most would say it is Duke vs. North Carolina and most in the media would agree. I would argue that the only reason most people believe that to be true is due to the fact that Duke and North Carolina are ALWAYS featured on ESPN during primetime and they spend weeks building up the match-up. You hear all the talk about the tradition that flows through "Tobacco Road" and how every other rivalry pales in comparison.
If you would take the time to travel down I-64 from Louisville to Lexington you would quickly learn what a rivalry really means. This yearly match-up between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals is one that has actually ended marriages and turned bother against brother. I have personally witnessed family members going years without talking to each other because the love they hold for their respective teams is thicker than blood.
This year, the game has extra meaning for several different reasons. First and foremost, this round will feature the last two National Champions, something I'm pretty sure has never happened with Duke and UNC. Another reason this years game is so important is for the simple fact that Kentucky needs this win worse than Louisville and for reasons far more important than bragging rights. Yes bragging rights is something good to have, but the Cats will be playing for seeding in the NCAA Tournament as their chances for quality wins are quickly fading and with the Cards being ranked #6, this would be Kentucky's first quality win of the season. Kentucky has faced three ranked teams (two more than the Cards) and has lost to them all. It's also worth mentioning that Louisville's only game against a ranked opponent came against UNC with the Cards losing 93-84 at a neutral site (Cats only lost by five to UNC in Chapel Hill)
This is usual where I would give you some history on Kentucky's opponent, but I don't see the need for that with this game as I'm sure you know more than you care to about the Cardinals. Instead, let's just dive right in and see how these to stack up against each other…
BY THE NUMBERS:
PPG: 82 86
RPG: 44 41
APG: 13 15
SPG: 4 10
BPG: 7 5
TPG: 13 9
FG%: 48 47
FT%: 67 65
3P%: 31 35
Once again here is an opponent the Cats are pretty evenly matched with all except one stat that jumps out at you pretty hard, steals and turnovers. With the Cards averaging 10 steals per contest and the Cats averaging 13 turnovers you can see where things might get ugly for Kentucky if they don't take care of the ball on every single possession. There can be ABSOLUTELY NO weak passes as their guards are good at getting out in passing lanes and Julius Randle has got to be strong with the ball down low and avoid getting stripped whenever he makes his move to the basket.
The other thing to watch out for besides Louisville's full court press is their three point shooting. Yes they are streaky from outside, but if the shots are falling things could get ugly in a hurry in Rupp. Kentucky will have to guard the three WAY better than they did against Belmont where they gave up what seemed like one million wide open looks from three point range.
Kentucky leads the overall series with a record of 30-15 losing the last match-up 77-80 in the Yum Center.
Come noon Saturday, Rupp Arena will be rocking and we will see what this team will be going forward. If this team can't get amped up for a game like this on their home floor then there is no way to know how the season will end up. I hate to label this game as a "season maker or breaker", but that's exactly what it is..
For what it's worth, Dick Vitale gave his prediction on the outcome of the game earlier on Twitter…
@DickieV: It is getting to be nervous time 4 BBN - SAT vs Cards really big 4 UK-@Rupp Cats will dig in says VBDI & bring joy to BBN-UK 74-Cards 70!
I don't think I have ever wanted Dick Vitale to right so bad in my entire life...