The time has finally come for the biggest game of the season to date, at least for most A Sea of Blue readers -- the Kentucky Wildcats host the Louisville Cardinals tomorrow afternoon in
Freedom Hall Rupp Arena.
No game on the schedule evokes such strong emotions of partisanship and passion. Since the re-birth of the "Dream Game" in the immediate aftermath of what was the first meeting of the Cards and 'Cats in 33 years in the NCAA regional finals in 1983, this game is circled on the calendar of fans of both teams.
UK/U of L is a storied, passionate and heated rivalry that is surely the equal of any rivalry in all of sport, professional or amateur, perhaps made all the more intense by the fact the teams only play once per year, unlike North Carolina/Duke or Indiana/Purdue. It seems to me the most intense rivalries, for example Auburn/Alabama, Oklahoma/Texas, or South Carolina/Clemson in football, share this characteristic.
John Calipari does not get this yet -- not at all, but he will. As coach of the Kentucky program, losing to Louisville is an absolute road to perdition, if you do it often enough. Forget banners and national championships. Forget trophies and national coach of the year awards. Forget SEC championships. Lose to the Cardinals, and the Kentucky fan base will blame you, Coach Cal. You will learn the true meaning of fan displeasure as you have never known it before.
In a rivalry like this, with one game per year, you have one shot to get it right. One shot at bragging rights. One shot at what is best in life: to "Crush your enemy, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." If you lay down on this one, you have to listen to it from your rivals for an entire year before you dare dream of vengeance.
That has a way of focusing the mind.
More after the jump.
We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Keep in mind, this thing is interactive, and you can zoom in on various periods of time along the way to see how the teams have fared during different slices of the season.
Four Factors Analysis
As usual, thanks to A Sea of Blue member sylvar for producing the dashboard application above.
As you can see, these two teams are very comparable both offensively and defensively. Both teams are near top-10 levels offensively, with Kentucky being modestly better. Both teams have been fairly consistent in their OE all year long with the exception of their first game or so.
Kentucky has a solid advantage in offensive rebounding %, and ranks #1 in the country in that stat. But the Cardinals are no slouch, either, as they are ranked 10th in OR%. The Cardinals take better care of the basketball than Kentucky, but only by a small margin. Both teams get to the line a lot with the Wildcats coming out slightly on top. This stat is one that both teams need to improve.
Defensively, the Wildcats were much better than the Cardinals in the early part of the season, then the Cards surpassed the Wildcats on DE by a small margin and have held that advantage until perhaps last game, but Kentucky has played one more game than Louisville, so it's hard to say for sure. Essentially, the Cardinals have a tiny advantage in DE.
The Cardinals force more turnovers than UK does, and this has been a problem for Kentucky all year. As quick and strong as the Wildcats are, they don't force that many turnovers. Obviously, the Pitino pressing style has a lot to do with that disparity, and it will be interesting to see if the Cardinals can turn over the young Wildcats with pressure. It is sure to be rather difficult with both Wall and Bledsoe in the game at the same time, but this could be a spot where the Wildcats' youth may be exposed.
UK does a better job of keeping opponents off the offensive glass and off the free throw line than the Cardinals do. Kentucky is also a better 3-point shooting team, percentage wise, although they take significantly fewer threes than the Cardinals do. Louisville's bench is more productive than the 'Cats, and Louisville has generally played at a higher tempo, no doubt due to their pressing style.
Now for a look at the Cardinal roster:
Louisville Cardinals Basketball Roster
|Rakeem Buckles||4||F||Role player
|Reginald Delk||12||G||Sometime starter, limited role payer
|Terrence Jennings||23||F||Role player
|Preston Knowles||2||G||Sometime starter, significant contributor, best defender
|Kyle Kuric||14||G||Limited role player, hot lately
|Mike Marra||33||G||Role player
|Samardo Samuels||15||F||Starter, Leading scorer & rebounder
|Jerry Smith||34||G||Starter, significant contributor||190||6-2||senior|
|Edgar Sosa||10||G||Starter, major contributor
|Jared Swopshire||21||F||Starter, role player
|Stephan Van Treese||44||F||-||230||6-9||freshman|
|Stephan Van Treese||10||3.3||0.3||0.5||60.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.1||0.0||0.3||0.5||0.8||0.3||0.5||0.0||0.2||0.5||0.6|
Position Analysis: Point guard
The Cardinal's starting point guard is senior Edgar Sosa. Of course, Kentucky fans will remember Sosa well, since he hit a 24-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Kentucky in Freedom Hall last year.
Sosa is having a very good year for the Cardinals. He is shooting 41% from the arc, 49% overall, and is the second leading Cardinal scorer at 13.3 points and 4.3 assists per game. Sosa has fair size at 6'2"/175#, is very athletic and somewhat erratic. But Sosa is capable of having very big games, can get to the rim against anybody and can finish when he gets there.
Offensively, Sosa is more than capable of handling either one of Kentucky's guards. Sosa's offensive game is probably too advanced for Wall to hold down, and Bledsoe may fare a bit better on him. Wall has a size advantage, but Wall has not played particularly well against penetrating guards this year because of his youth, and Sosa is perhaps the best he has faced.
Defensively, Sosa cannot handle Wall at all. Even his experience is not sufficient, as Wall is quicker, taller, faster and just plain more talented. Sosa's mercurial and emotional nature will surely work against him versus the light-hearted but determined Wall, which means Preston Knowles will also get some time against him. Knowles is Louisville's best defender and is very poised and emotionally mature, but he has not had to face anything like John Wall off the bounce.
Louisville is better defensively at this spot, but offensively, Wall is peerless and virtually impossible for the Cardinal personnel to handle. That's just reality.
Position Analysis: Shooting guard
Louisville's starting shooting guard is Jerry Smith. Smith, like Sosa, is a senior who has seen a ton of playing time at Louisville over the last few years. He is known as an outstanding perimeter shooter, but he has been struggling with his shot lately, averaging 8.7 points and shooting just 23% from three and only 38.7% from the floor.
Smith is not particularly athletic but can handle the ball and passes well from the off-guard spot, averaging almost 2.6 assists per game. Smith is a good but not great defender, but in the style of Pitino's teams of the past, tries to make up for his shortcomings with hustle, good positioning, and maximizing the advantage of his experience.
Offensively, Smith is capable of great games. Last year he averaged 41% from 3, and his struggles from the outside could disappear at any time. Smith averages almost 40% from three for his career, and it would not surprise anyone if he woke up and had a big game against Kentucky.
Defensively, Smith will have difficulty no matter who he draws as an assignment between Wall and Bledsoe. Both are much more athletic and better off the bounce than anyone Louisville has played so far this year, but Bledsoe is not nearly the threat John Wall is. So assuming that is Smith's assignment, his experience will likely offset most of Bledsoe's advantage in skill and athleticism.
Position Analysis: Small Forward
The Cardinals have gone with a 3-guard lineup at times this year, but Preston Knowles is still recovering from a hand injury. Although he will play plenty, his hand has not recovered 100%, so I expect to see Reginald Delk starting at the 3 for the Cardinals.
Delk, of course, is a relative of UK's Tony Delk, and like Tony, Reginald is a capable 3-point shooter who is shooting 47% from the arc and 49% from the floor. Delk is mostly a perimeter player, and more than half of his shot attempts have been from beyond the 3-point arc.
Offensively, Delk can be a dangerous shooter, but he has only put up 36 3-pointers so far this year, about half of what Sosa has shot. He has been splitting a lot of time lately with Kyle Kuric and Rakeem Buckles.
Darius Miller will draw the assignment on Delk, and it is a good match up overall for Kentucky. Miller is bigger than Delk and just as quick, and even though Delk is a senior, this is only his second year in Rick Pitino's system. Miller will have to stay at home on Delk defensively, but offensively, Delk does not match up well with Miller.
Position analysis: Power Forward
Jared Swopshire is the power forward for the Cardinals. Swopshire is a sophomore who is third on the team in minutes and averages 8 points and 5.6 rebounds. Sopshire has a decent offensive game, and can shoot the ball with range as well as inside.
Unfortunately for Louisville, Swopshire will be going up against Kentucky junior power forward Patrick Patterson, and there is no aspect of the game of basketball at which Swopshire is superior to Patterson. Swopshire is physically much smaller at 6'8"/220#, and has no shot whatever of guarding the accomplished player that is Patrick Patterson in the post.
Not only that, but now that Paterson has developed a perimeter game, the matchup for Swopshire gets even tougher. I expect to see a lot of Terrance Jennings on Patterson in relief of Swopshire, but that isn't really much better for the Cardinals, since Patterson can out-finesse Jennings as well as overpower him, even though Jennings is a better athlete and has superior size. Patterson can take Jennings away from the basket, where Jennings is not comfortable.
Position Analysis: Center
If the Cardinals have a go-to player, it is 6'9"/260# Samardo Samuels, who averages 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest. Samuels is a big, strong inside player with good athleticism and soft, strong hands. Samuels is also a decent free throw shooter at 68% and is shooting 54% from the field.
Samuels draws a ton of fouls and is fifth in the nation in fouls drawn/40 minutes of play, and #51 in offensive rebound %. He has a strong lower and upper body, good footwork, and is generally a difficult matchup inside. Except for this game.
DeMarcus Cousins is taller, longer, and a bigger man than Samuels, and that is rare. Samardo Samuels relies a lot on his upper body strength to get the ball into the basket, and DeMarcus Cousins has shown that he is capable of handling absolutely anyone inside the paint on defense with his long arms and tendency not to go for shot fakes. Samuels has lots of moves inside, though, so it will will be interesting to see if Cousins can avoid drawing fouls, as Samuels is really great at that.
Defensively versus Cousins, Samuels has virtually all the same problems that Cousins has against him, only to a slightly greater degree. Cousins is a relentless rebounder of a kind Samuels has rarely experienced, except perhaps last year when he played against DeJuan Blair of Pitt. Cousins is like Blair, only bigger and longer.
DeMarcus Cousins is the #1 player in college basketball in offensive rebound %, the %1 player in percentage of possessions used (a measure of how many possessions he is responsible for ending), #3 in fouls drawn/40 minutes (even better than Samuels), and #43 in block percentage. This is by far the biggest challenge this year for Samardo Samuels, and bigger players have sometimes frustrated Samuels, as Colton Iverson did last year when the Cardinals played the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Samuels has more experience, but Cousins more raw talent. I give the edge to Kentucky, but that is debatable.
Advantage: Slight Kentucky
Louisville has a fine, fine bench which they utilize to their fullest. Not only do they have Terrence Jennings, Peyton Siva and Mike Mara seeing over 10 minutes per game, but also Rakeem Buckles, who is a dangerous freshman on both ends of the floor, and Kyle Kuric, who has been a remarkable rebounder so far this year.
Coaching Records Comparison
Via Wikipedia, here is a comparison of the college coaching records of Rick Pitino and John Calipari (by special request):
|Rick Pitino's College Head Coaching Record||John Calipari's Head Coaching Record|
|Boston University Terriers (Independent) (1978–1979)||Massachusetts Minutemen (Atlantic 10 Conference) (1988–1996)|
|Boston University Terriers (America East) (1979–1983)||1989–90||Massachusetts||17–14||10–8||6th||NIT 1st Round|
|1979–80||Boston U.||21–9||N/A||N/A||NIT Second Round||1990–91||Massachusetts||20–13||10–8||T-3rd||NIT 4th Place|
|1980–81||Boston U.||13–14||N/A||N/A||1991–92||Massachusetts||30–5||13–3||1st||NCAA Sweet 16|
|1981–82||Boston U.||19–9||6–2||T–2nd||1992–93||Massachusetts||24–7||11–3||1st||NCAA 2nd Round|
|1982–83||Boston U.||21–10||8–2||1st||NCAA Preliminary||1993–94||Massachusetts||28–7||14–2||1st||NCAA 2nd Round|
|Boston U.:||91–51||14-4||1994–95||Massachusetts||29–5||13–3||1st||NCAA Elite Eight|
|Providence Friars (Big East Conference) (1985–1987)||1995–96||Massachusetts||31–1 *||15–1||1st||NCAA Final Four (vacated)|
|1985–86||Providence||17–14||7–9||5th||NIT Elite Eight||Massachusetts:||189–70||91–41|
|1986–87||Providence||25–9||10–6||4th||NCAA Final Four||Memphis Tigers (Conference USA) (2000–2009)|
|Providence:||42–23||17–15||2000–01||Memphis||21–15||10–6||2nd (National)||NIT Third Place|
|Kentucky Wildcats (Southeastern Conference) (1989–1997)||2001–02||Memphis||27–9||12–4||1st (National)||NIT Champions|
|1989–90||Kentucky||14–14||10–8||T-9th||2002–03||Memphis||23–7||13–3||1st (National)||NCAA 1st Round|
|1990–91||Kentucky||22–6||14–4||T-8th||2003–04||Memphis||22–8||12–4||T-1st||NCAA 2nd Round|
|1991-92||Kentucky||29–7||12-4||1st / 1st||NCAA Elite Eight||2004–05||Memphis||22–16||9–7||T-6th||NIT Semifinals|
|1992–93||Kentucky||30–4||13-3||2nd / 1st||NCAA Final Four||2005–06||Memphis||33–4||13–1||1st||NCAA Elite Eight|
|1993–94||Kentucky||27–7||12-4||2nd / 1st||NCAA Second Round||2006–07||Memphis||33–4||16–0||1st||NCAA Elite Eight|
|1994-95||Kentucky||28–5||14-2||4th / 1st||NCAA Elite Eight||2007–08||Memphis||38–2 **||16–0||1st||NCAA Runner-up (vacated)|
|1995–96||Kentucky||34–2||16–0||1st / 2nd||NCAA Champion||2008–09||Memphis||33–4||16–0||1st||NCAA Sweet 16|
|1996-97||Kentucky||35–5||13-3||2nd / 1st||NCAA Finalist||Memphis:||214–67||101–25|
|Kentucky:||219–50||104–28||Kentucky Wildcats (Southeastern Conference) (2009–present)|
|Louisville Cardinals (Conference USA) (2001–2005)||2009–10||Kentucky||8–0||0–0|
|2001-02||Louisville||19–13||8-8||T-8th||NIT Second Round||Kentucky:||10–0||0–0|
|2002-03||Louisville||25-7||11-5||3rd / 1st||NCAA Second Round||Total:||413–137||75.09%|
|2003-04||Louisville||20-10||9-7||T-6th||NCAA First Round|
|2004-05||Louisville||33-5||14-2||1st / 1st||NCAA Final Four|
|Louisville Cardinals (Big East Conference) (2005–"present")|
|2006–07||Louisville||24-10||12–4||T–2nd||NCAA Second Round|
|2007–08||Louisville||27-9||14-4||T–2nd||NCAA Elite Eight|
|2008–09||Louisville||31-5||16-2||1st / 1st||NCAA Elite Eight|
You might expect the Wildcats to have an overwhelming advantage in this game, but they absolutely don't. Louisville is loaded with young talent and has more experience at most positions than Kentucky. Kentucky has more raw talent at almost every position, but suffer from a significant dearth of experience.
In addition, Kentucky is likely to see the best zone defense they have seen all year, and maybe the best they will see. Louisville plays a ton of an extremely aggressive match-up zone, and Sosa, Knowles and Smith really pressure the basketball. A lot will depend upon how well UK can get the ball into the zone gaps to force rotation, and knock down three point shots.
Another big concern is Kentucky's 3-point defense, which has been poor this year. The Cardinals take a lot of 3-point shots and have a number of really good three-point shooters. If they are successful in that phase of the game, it will make it tougher for UK inside, where Samuels is a very tough player and can get the 'Cats into foul trouble.
Finally, Louisville presents what is arguably the best press in college basketball, and that is something UK has not faced much this year. They will likely be facing it for all 40 minutes unless Wall and Bledsoe prove that pressing them is a bad idea. I do know that if Wall catches the ball on the move a lot in our press offense, Louisville is likely to get into foul trouble. They have not seen anything like the speed of John Wall, and Wall hardly ever gets called for a charge.
In the half court, the Wildcats must play with fewer turnovers and get the ball into the soft spots in the Louisville zone. Kentucky must avoid giving the Cardinals a chance to run, because they run very well and have a bunch of interchangeable parts, which give them somewhat more flexibility, albeit considerably less size.
Projected score: Kentucky 75, Louisville 65.