It's time, once again, for some collaborative discussion, this time about the Kentucky Wildcats versus the Louisville Cardinals in the Chicken Ranch on Saturday afternoon. Today's question for the panel is this:
How do you feel about Kentucky's chances against Louisville tomorrow?
Normally, JC would have participated as well, but he is off globe-trotting somewhere (last I heard he was in the City of Light, lucky dog), but we have several answers to consider:
A2D2: How do I feel about our chances? That is a little hard to explain because I'm nervous about the game. Okay, that is an understatement. I am extremely nervous about tomorrow's game. For the record, I wasn't at all nervous about the Final Four game against the Cards in March.
Therefore, today, I will be totally clad in blue and I will wear every piece of lucky UK jewelry I can possibly wear tastefully at work. I will answer my GOG questions this evening and of course I will pick the 'Cats to win the game.
Then, I will find the box that I have had since I was a kid that contains every lucky nugget from my entire life. I will carefully pick out the proven winning pieces of history and I will send invitations to the Tooth Fairy, Cupid, the Leprechaun, the Easter Bunny, the Great Pumpkin, Santa, baby New Year, and all their other friends to watch the game with me.
After that, I will pace and pray a lot.
Ken Howlett: Not good. Playing on the road, in what will surely be an incredibly hostile environment, against a talented team who's lost four straight games to the 'Cats, will probably be too much for this Kentucky squad to overcome.
Louisville, with the No. 1 ranked defense in the nation, will be dedicated to changing its defensive looks in an attempt to confuse and frustrate UK. A ploy which I see working well against a team that struggles at times to score the ball.
In addition, Kentucky has not faced the pressure defense (including the Cards full court press) it is about to run up against as they face UofL, and I'm afraid a shell-shock affect might be the result.
In one of the most important individual match-ups of the game -- the point guard dual of Peyton Siva vs. Ryan Harrow -- might prove to be a Wildcat back-breaker, also. If Siva is able to disrupt Harrow's offensive intention by cutting off passing lanes and forcing Harrow out of rhythm, Kentucky will likely resort to perimeter shots and forced drives to the hoop to beat the Cards, and I'm not sure this team will find enough points out of what could be a disjointed offense.
Also, Wayne Blackshear is beginning to find himself offensively. That, coupled with Russ Smith playing like an All-American, spells double-trouble for a Wildcat squad that at times loses itself on the defensive end.
Of course, this is a rivalry game, and anything can happen, but the odds are heavily weighted in Louisville's favor in this contest. But, if UK is able to make shots at a decent rate, say 45-percent overall and 40-percent from beyond the arc (on 15-plus attempts), the 'Cats may be able to keep up. Also, if UK is successful in getting to the rim with regularity, either scoring or getting to the free throw line, the game could become very interesting.
In my view, a single-digit loss for Kentucky would be a small victory, though. Kentucky is facing an experienced, and very talented basketball team who will be pumped to the gills to bury the 'Cats. The intensity and focus Louisville will bring to the floor will probably go unmatched by UK, and that alone will be enough to send Kentucky home empty-handed.
JLeverenz: I keep waffling back and forth between "Cautiously optimistic" and "Good effort in a loss".
On the optimistic side, Kentucky has demonstrated an ability to counter two of the most important elements in Louisville's game: forcing turnovers and offensive rebounding. The Cats are good at taking care of the ball and with Ryan Harrow at the helm, the basketball is in good hands. They've faced some really good offensive rebounding teams and more than held their own - particularly against Marshall and Baylor. Those two elements will give the team a fighting chance.
On the other hand, offense has been a real issue. They have not shown an ability to score in multiple ways the way the last few UK teams could, so if the 3's aren't falling they are in big trouble. UK is 19 of 46 (41.3%) shooting 3's in the Yum Center, but all but 18 of those made shots are by players no longer on the team. Josh Harrellson has as many career 3's in the building as Kyle Wiltjer does. The Cardinals will have Dieng back to anchor the middle of the paint where Kentucky likes to try and go and none of UK's players have demonstrated the kind of offensive skill needed to overcome such a talented shot blocker. I have nightmares about Archie Goodwin constantly driving at Dieng and getting his shots rejected over and over.
Ultimately I believe their ball handling and rebounding will be sufficient to keep the game close, but to win they are going to have to either shoot well from behind the arc (>38% on enough attempts for it to matter) or demonstrate heretofore unseen creativeness and skill in getting shots at the rim. I suppose in the final analysis I see a close game with Louisville hitting some late free throws to win by 5.
Glenn Logan: As before, I haven't read anyone's commentary (at least until I proof this thing). I am optimistic. I think these last three weeks have really helped this team in many ways. The one way it hasn't is that they haven't played quite often enough -- teams tend to play their best when they play about every four days or so, not have three weeks of one game per week like Kentucky has had.
I believe that Kentucky is going to find a way to win, and here is why: The Cardinals are going to come into this game very confident -- no reason why they shouldn't be. Everyone is picking them, they really don't think that a bunch of frosh can beat them, and they are playing at home where they have been very successful.
What they do not understand is the talent differential between Kentucky and themselves, and that is going to be a rude awakening for them. Louisville is also not a particularly good shooting team, and the presence of Kentucky's bigs defensively is going to force them to make more long shots than they like. That's a big plus for UK.
The big worry is whether or not Kentucky will be able to compete on the glass in the difficult environment they are going to face in the Yum! Center, and whether or not that puts UK's ballhandlers far enough off their game that they turn the ball over. Kentucky has struggled to communicate all year under the best of conditions, and the loud crowd is going to make that harder. Either that will focus their minds on it more, or shut them up. Let's hope for the former.
But I still think Kentucky surprises Louisville. They are ripe for it. They want this game too much, and it will be their undoing.
That's what we have to say. Weigh in down in the comments, and fill out the poll that follows this article.