For all of the sports viewing I do over the course of a year, in all honesty, my year revolves around one day. In 2012, that day just happens to be this coming Saturday, December 29. That’s the day my University of Louisville Cardinals will do battle with the University of Kentucky Wildcats on the hardwood.
For the uninitiated, all you need to know is that Battle for the Bluegrass is the nastiest rivalry in College Basketball; if not in any sport. In a day and age where most rivalries now consist of some sarcastic jabbing back and forth between fan bases; and a lot of post game hugs amongst the players, UofL/UK is a bona fide bloodbath. This rivalry ends relationships, and divides families..permanently.
This isn’t just a basketball rivalry. This is a rivalry rooted in the belief by many Kentucky fans that not only are Louisville basketball fans inferior; but that the city, the university, and anything associated with the word Louisville is inferior. If you want to experience a little taste, just search the hash tag #Louisvillehateweek on twitter. You’ll quickly gain an understanding.
There’s no arguing that historically, Kentucky has dominated the series. Although the fact that they refused to play Louisville from 1959-1983 certainly helped. I’m quite certain that the Cardinals would’ve snagged their fair share of wins during that time; particularly during the first decade of Denny Crum’s era. Be that as it may, the Cards and Cats are getting ready to exchange hay-makers this Saturday at in Louisville.
This season, the Wildcats find themselves in the rare position of being the underdog. In no way do I think that will make this any easier. In fact, it may add an extra bit of nastiness to the Cats. John Calipari’s group of youngsters hasn’t displayed the kind of instant dominance that his previous teams have, so I wouldn’t be shocked if they come in a bit edgy.
This game is what College Basketball is all about. Both teams are rich in tradition and success. Both teams are talented. Both teams are going to push the pace. Both teams are going to try and tear each other’s throats out. What could be better than that?
Kentucky is once again comprised of a group of highly rated frosh, hanging out, waiting for the NBA Draft. Nerlens Noel hasn’t been Anthony Davis, but he has been solid. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress have displayed some electricity. However, the Cats will need to answer a few questions to win on Saturday. Will their sketchy guard play handle the constant pressure the Cardinals bring? Will they get enough open looks to punish Louisville from the arc? And, will they run out of gas due to their woefully thin bench?
Louisville is a talented mix of youth and experience. In an era which identifies player “development” as recruiting NBA ready players, and getting them drafted; Coach Pitino has done an excellent job actually cultivating players. Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng are the poster children for true player development; and both will be key as usual for the Cards.
If you watch for no other reason, it should be to check out “Russdiculous” and Gorgui. Neither kid was heavily recruited; and Rick has molded them both from raw basketball materials, into elite college ballers. No player in the country makes you go from pulling your hair out, to making your jaw drop faster than Russ Smith. Gorgui learns and applies something new every single time he steps on the floor. These two kids are a joy to watch.
Despite the fact that U of L is highly ranked, and widely considered a Final Four contender, they’ll need to answer some questions of their own this weekend. Will being the favorite be too big for them? Will the other guys provide Russ and Peyton Siva enough offensive support? And will Gorgui be healthy enough to offset the size advantage UK has in the paint with Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein?
All of those questions are completely basketball related. I have other questions. Who will throw the first inadvertent/intentional, message sending elbow? And what’s the over/under on technical/flagrant fouls?
I’d be lying if I said this isn’t the most important game of the season for myself and 99% of U of L fans out there. UK fans would be lying if they said that a loss to the Cards doesn’t ruin their year; or at very least, significantly deflate their over inflated egos.
The Bluegrass State is going to turn into a sea of red on Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center. If you have a pulse, and consider yourself even a marginal sports fan, do yourself a favor. Get in front of a TV at 4p Saturday afternoon, flip the channel to CBS, and take in this rivalry. I can assure you, the Cards and Cats will not disappoint.