So here we are, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation — once again into the breech of the so-called "Dream Game," the annual rivalry game between the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals. In this game, the Wildcats are a slight underdog (-2.5) even though the game is being played in Rupp Arena.
This is a huge game for both teams. Both teams need it badly for their NCAA résumés due to weak conference schedules, but it is by no means a be-all and end-all game for either team. For the fans, though, this game counts a lot more than most of the others.
Let's have a quick look at the Four Factors for this one:
As you see, both teams shoot the ball well. Louisville shoots it very slightly better, but given their weak schedule and the fact that the stats above are not adjusted for competition, I like the Wildcats' spot more than the graph indicates.
When it comes to ballhandling, though, the Cardinals really perform. They don't turn it over much at all, and they take it away a lot, second in the nation in steals. Kentucky gives it away plenty without the Cardinals' pressure, so that stat will be key.
Kentucky gets to the line a lot more than Louisville, and you can expect that to happen again today, because Louisville is going to have to play very physical inside to avoid getting dominated by Randle, WCS, and my dark horse for player of the game, Dakari Johnson. This is a game where Dakari could see some major minutes.
Kentucky is a slightly better offensive rebounding team, but again, as these are unadjusted stats, I think that could be understated.
What Kentucky must do to win:
Be patient. Louisville will try to speed us up, and they play the running game better than we do.
Get the ball to Randle in the low post. Our post feeds must be crisper than they have been to avoid Louisville steals.
Take care of the basketball. Live ball turnovers, particularly in the back court, will kill Kentucky if Louisville is able to force them.
Make free throws. Kentucky must make at least 65% of their free throws, or they will be in some trouble. I expect a lot of trips to the line.
Make some threes. Kentucky has really been streaky with 3-point shooting. They need to take their time, square their feet and make shots.
Get back in transition, and force Russ Smith to give up the ball. Smith is far more dangerous with the ball than without it.
Here's to a great, clean game, and I hope both teams emerge completely healthy from it. It's tempting for us fans to go a little overboard in this game, but I'd rather us just keep it classy and play our best basketball. If we can do that, I think the home crowd and better talent will prevail for Kentucky, even though this is likely to be a tough, physical game.