(1) Kentucky (36-2) vs. (4) Louisville (30-9) – 6:09PM ET, New Orleans, LA, CBS
Well, it’s finally here. The game that has dominated this week’s discussion and pits two of college basketball’s most successful and well-known coaches against each other is set to tip off later today.
And oh, did I mention that this is also a rivalry game between two storied programs and the two coaches don’t really care for each other? Of course I did, along with every other commentator over the last few days.
Kentucky comes into New Orleans as the overwhelming favorite, not only to win this game, but also to cut down the nets on Monday, versus whoever has the pleasure of playing for second place. I am already on record as saying that the Wildcats won’t win this year’s tournament, but Kentucky has been dominant in their four wins to this point.
UK easily dispatched of Western Kentucky in the first round, ran Iowa State out of the gym in the second, wore Indiana down with a 102-point performance in the Sweet 16, and completely dismantled an unprepared Baylor squad in the Elite 8.
The only saving grace for the other three teams in New Orleans is that none of the crash-test dummies in Kentucky’s path to date have been true National Championship contenders.
However, newly minted National Player of the Year, Anthony Davis, made the flight to the Bayou. And Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones & company will join him, so beating the Wildcats will be a monumental task for anyone.
Of course, Rick Pitino was built for such tasks.
Pitino brings to the Superdome a Louisville squad that is on an eight-game winning streak, having won the Big East tournament prior to the start of the NCAAs. The Cardinals ground out victories versus Davidson and New Mexico in the first and second rounds, shocked Michigan State with a masterful defensive performance in the Sweet 16, and stole victory from a dazed Florida team, despite a poor, foul-plagued performance.
On paper, this game has the look of another Kentucky demolition. But, Louisville has been better than they look on paper for most of the season and since the beginning of March, they have been beautifully ugly on the court. And don’t forget, these two teams met on New Year’s Eve in Rupp Arena, where the Cardinals looked overmatched at times, but still were able to keep the game close and competitive until the end.
Giving Pitino a week to prepare makes me want to pick Louisville in a classic upset. However, Kentucky’s John Calipari has had the same amount of time and the Wildcats have heard plenty about Pitino and Louisville’s ability to pull off the impossible, so one of the common components of an upset – surprise – will not be a factor tonight.
Look for Louisville to successfully keep this game ugly and in the 60s to low 70s, in a tightly contested defensive struggle. Look for Peyton Siva to outplay Marquis Teague and for Chane Behanan to show that he too is a big-time freshman. Look for Kentucky’s freshmen to finally make some freshman mistakes. And finally, look for Calipari to once again come up a bit short and the media’s ensuing unfairly harsh response. For it won’t be Calipari’s fault, it ain’t easy to win with freshmen.
Prediction: Louisville 73, Kentucky 71
Tags: 2012 Ncaa Tournament Big East Basketball College Basketball College Hoops John Calipari Kentucky Wildcats Louisville Basketball March Madness Ncaa Tournament Rick Pitino Sec Basketball Uk Basketball