Kentucky has dominated the series since John Calipari came to Lexington, winning going 8-1 and winning the last three games in the series. They have been very close though as all but one game were decided by single digits. The one blowout game was Kentucky beating Louisville at the YUM Center 78-63 in 2010.
As the losses have mounted for the Cardinals, the fans have become more frustrated, and the Wildcats are stepping into the craziest home environment they will face this season. For some reason, the powers that be have made this a Wednesday night 7:00 PM game instead of the Holiday Marquee matchup it deserves to be.
Regardless, this game should be a classic no matter where and when it was held. Let's meet the Cardinals
#4 G QUENTIN SNIDER (JR, 6'2, 175) 11.0 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.5 RPG
#45 G DONOVAN MITCHELL (SO, 6'3, 200) 11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.4 APG
#10 F JAYLEN JOHNSON (JR, 6'9, 230) 9.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG
#22 F DENG ADEL (SO, 6'7, 200) 9.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.1 APG
#12 F MANGOK MATHIANG (SR, 6'10, 230) 6'8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.3 BPG
As Quentin Snider goes, so goes the Cardinals as Pitino depends on him to set the table for both the offense and the defense. He distributes the ball well and has an A/TO ratio of over 3.0. Snider has trouble finishing and has struggled with his shot this year. He hits just 33.3% of his three-pointers and even worse, 32.2% overall. Snider averaged close to a steal a game last year, but he has just one steal on the season so far this year. Snider seems to be turning it around with
Donovan Mitchell is a freakish athlete and a human highlight machine. He is also a defensive nightmare as he averages 2.5 steals a game. His shot selection and accuracy are still questionable, though. He hits just 29% of his three-pointers and 37.5% of his shots overall. He is a solid rebounder and will battle for the loose ball.
Jaylen Johnson has really improved with more playing time this season, and he could be the Cardinal’s best interior scorer. He has a pretty good range and hits 62.3% of his shots. He is also an aggressive rebounder and a pretty good interior defender. Pitino has been really high on Deng Adel and has said he could be the best player for the Cardinals, but he has struggled with his shot this year. His shooting percentage has dropped ten points from last year to 35.5%, and he connects on just 28.9% of his three-pointers. He is a little timid on the boards, but he can actually pass the ball pretty well for a forward.
Mangok Mathiang has improved his rebounding but is really struggling with his shooting. He averages 43.3% from the field, which is down from 56.3% last season. He is a decent shot blocker but is still too foul prone and averages 2.8 fouls in just 20 minutes a game.
#1 G TONY HICKS (SR, 6'1, 180) 3.9 PPG, 1.6 APG, 1.4 RPG
#23 G DAVID LEVITCH (SR, 6'3, 180) 2.5 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.8 APG
#30 G RYAN McMAHON (FR, 6'0, 170) 2.3 PPG, 0.9 APG, 0.6 RPG
#0 G/F VJ KING (FR, 6'6, 190) 7.9 PPG, 2.8 APG, 0.5 APG
#13 F RAY SPALDING (SO, 6'10, 215) 7.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG
#14 F ANAS MAHMOUD (JR, 7'0, 215) 5.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 BPG
Freshman VJ King is talented and can see time at the three as part of a three-guard lineup. He is a high energy guy that plays solid defense and he does not make a lot of mistakes that will hurt you. He hits 45% of his shots and has a good three-point stroke at 53.3% but he has just attempted 15 treys on the year.
Tony Hicks could be an x-factor in this game. The Penn transfer did not play last year and has played in just seven games this year. He was a pretty consistent scorer and a solid three-point shooter but may still be a little rusty. He is hitting just 25% of his three-pointers and 27.3% of his shots overall. David Levitch has the reputation as the sharpshooter off the bench and is hitting 54.5% of his three-pointers. Freshman Ryan McMahon takes almost all of his shots from long range and hits 36.8% of his bombs.
Ray Spalding will also see minutes at the PF position, and he is one of the better defenders and has the quickness and the length to make an impact and averages 1.3 blocks in just 18 minutes a game. Spalding is probably the most effective scorer in the paint and hits 63.2% of his shots. Anas Mahmoud has become a defensive force and averages 2.5 blocks in just 18 minutes and has improved his shooting to 71.4%. Mahmoud is 7'0 and weighs just 215, and he tends to get pushed around when the play gets too physical.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
First, I want to expel a myth about this Kentucky team and the perception they are not a solid defensive basketball team. While it may appear so if you go by just the UCLA and the North Carolina game, in reality, Kentucky's defense matches up pretty well with the defensive-minded Cardinals.
Louisville allows opposing teams to shoot just 36% from the field and 28.3% from long range. By comparison, Kentucky allows 39.8% and 28.6% on three-pointers. The big disparity is in points allowed. Louisville allows 59.7 points a game and the Wildcats 71.6. Kentucky got into track meets with UNC and UCLA, which meant each team had a lot more possessions per game, which leads to the higher point totals.
If you are still hung up on the points allowed disparity, consider that Kentucky averages 95.2 points and the Cards 77.6. While UL may play a little bit better defense than Kentucky but Kentucky is a lot better offensive team than the Cardinals.
Kentucky shoots 49% from the field while Louisville hits 43%. Kentucky is not a great three-point shooting team at 34.2%, but the Cardinals are dreadful at 31.8%. Louisville is a little better at rebounding statistically but Kentucky better at blocking shots. Louisville may have the slight advantage defensively, but it is not as big as you think.
I think that Louisville may win the front court game a little bit just because of the experience they have but once again, guard play is going to control the tempo of this game, and Kentucky has a big advantage there, Kentucky has an A/TO ratio of 1.8 as compared to Louisville's 1.3 and both teams are pretty equal at forcing turnovers.
It's going to be a question of what team can control the tempo. I would think Kentucky will want to run the Cardinals out of the gym and if they can run, it could be a double-digit game for UK. Louisville is going to try to grind this game to a halt and force the ball inside. That too, is a game that Kentucky can play, but Kentucky needs to stay out of foul trouble if this turns into a grind it out affair.
From the little I have seen of Louisville, they do not look to be as disciplined as Pitino teams in the past, and that is an advantage for Kentucky. I also do not think that Louisville has anyone that can cover Kentucky's guard duo for forty minutes as while Louisville is deep, their bench is not as good as Kentucky. Also, in looking at the Louisville roster, I can not really see a "go to" scorer they would have whereas Kentucky has a couple. That could be a factor in a close game.
Look for a higher scoring game than usual as Kentucky will be able to force the tempo and will run a lot more than Rick Pitino wants to. I think it will be nip and tuck for about thirty minutes, but Kentucky's timely shooting will allow Kentucky to pull away for an 80-72 win.