The Kentucky/Louisville rivalry has become more passionate than even the North Carolina/Duke rivalry in the eyes of ESPN’s Dana O’Neil.
The problem with the Duke and North Carolina rivalry is that they play twice each season and then maybe again in the ACC Tournament. It is also possible that they may play a fourth time in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky and Louisville face off only one time each year during the regular season. They may play each other one more time in the Big Dance.
The annual December event between the Wildcats and the Cardinals is full of vitriol between the two fan bases. Louisville fans see Kentucky fans as pompous and arrogant with a little redneck thrown in for good measure while Kentucky fans see Louisville fans as delusional and whiney. Does it matter how each fan base sees the other? The fans don't play the game. How the players for each team feel about the other is more important, it seems to me.
There is no question that players for each team want to win this game. While there is much jawboning between the fans, you don't see or hear much from the players. Is that a sign of mutual respect or are they muzzled by the coaches in order to prevent bulletin board material?
Does Louisville match up with the Cats? Here's some numbers for you. First is the four factors for each team.
For me, this doesn't quite show much difference between the two teams even if Kentucky leads in three of the categories. Kentucky is shooting 65.9% from the free throw line, averaging 23.2 attempts per game while making only 15.3 per game. Compare that to Louisville's average is 17.7 FT made on 27.6 attempts per game for 64.1%. If you ask me, both teams are pretty crappy from the line. Kentucky is the more efficient team on offense, averaging 1.17 points per possession to Louisville's 1.08.
I think you have to drill down a little to get a better feel for each team. Louisville can play 11 players against Kentucky's 11 useable players.
Louisville's front court consists primarily of 6'8", 6'10" Chiananu Onauku, 6'5" , 6'10' , 7'0" and 6'9" .
They will be facing (Blue Platoon) 7'0", 6'11" Karl Anthony-Towns, 6'10" , (White Platoon) 7'0" , 6;9" , 6'9" and one of the three from the Blue Platoon, depending on who's playing well.
That's the available players for each front court. How much each individual plays is up to each coach. Blackshear and Harrell play over 31 minutes per game, so there's not much substitution at the PF and SF position. Onuaku and Mathiang average 17.3 and 20 minutes ,respectively. In Kentucky's front court, only Willie Cauley-Stein averages more than 20 minutes per game. Here's a comparison of the front courts' four factors where Kentucky leads in all four.
So, will Louisville beat Kentucky with its back court? Don't buy into that. The Cards guards show up better only in the Free Throw Rate, but the biggest disparity shows in turnover %. Kentucky is averaging 11.3 turnovers per game over 12 games while Louisville is averaging 14.0 over 11 games.
If you think that Louisville can win from the three point line, the Cardinals average 6.3 per game on 21.6 attempts while Kentucky averages 5.4 per game on 17.2 attempts.The Cards have 6'1", 5'10" , 6'3" , 6'2" Quentin Snyder, and 6'3" available.Rozier averages 30.22 minutes and Jones averages 28.78 minutes per game. Only Anton Gill plays more than 10 minutes per game.
Kentucky counters with 6'6" Andrew and, 6'6" , 5'9" and 6'0" Dominique Hawkins. Only Hawkins doesn't average more than 10 minutes. A5 averages 22.54 and A2 averages 23.27 minutes per game. Ulis averages 19.44 minutes and Booker averages 18.3 minutes. Here's how the back courts match up.
For a complete comparison for both teams, go here at Statsheet.com.
Kentucky wins this game if they continue to play to the level of competition. Kentucky has played three top 25 teams (Kansas - neutral site, Texas and North Carolina at home) and the average margin of victory has been 19.33. Louisville has played one top 25 team (Ohio St.) and won by 9 at home.
So, what this game comes down to is not how Louisville plays, but how Kentucky plays. Louisville cannot beat the Wildcats, only Kentucky can do that. Since Calipari arrived:
Kentucky shot 46.1% on January 2, 2010 in Rupp to Louisville's 32.2% in Kentucky's 61-52 win.
Kentucky shot 50.9% on December 31, 2010 in The Yum! to Louisville's 46.3% in Kentucky's 78-63 win.
Kentucky shot 29.8% on December 31, 2011 in Rupp to Louisville's 32.2% in Kentucky's 69-62 win. Louisville sent Kentucky to the line 43 times and the Cats hit 32 compared to Louisville's 18 of 27.
In the NCAA Tournament Final Four in New Orleans, Kentucky shot 57.1% to Louisville's 34.8% in Kentucky's 69-61 win.
In Kentucky's only loss to Louisville, on December 29, 2012, since Calipari's arrival, Kentucky shot 48.3% to Louisville's 53.3% in the 77-80 loss.
Kentucky shot 43.5% on December 28, 2013 in Rupp to Louisville's 39.7% in Kentucky's 73-66 win.
In the NCAA Midwest Region Semifinal in Indianapolis on March 28, 2014 Kentucky shot 43.6% to Louisville's 49.1% in Kentucky's 74-69 win.
Kentucky has only played at the Yum! twice, and once it was a double digit win. That doesn't mean we should expect another double digit win. Look for about a nine point win. No matter. Kentucky is going to Louisville and should win. Hopefully, Card fans should feel like they've received this when it is all said and done.
What a great Christmas present for the Louisville fans.