We have all been basking in the glow of the win over the North Carolina Tar Heels. It was one of the most entertaining college basketball games we have all seen in the regular season, and it is an early contender for game of the year.
What to Like About the Matchup
Kentucky’s talent- There is a decisive talent gap advantage for the Wildcats. The Cards have some nice players on their team, Deng Adel and Donovan Mitchell for example, but nobody of the caliber of De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, or Bam Adebayo. Position for position, I would take a Kentucky player in the starting five over a Louisville player except maybe the four spot. We will get to that in a bit.
The speed and the scoring- It doesn’t matter that you know it’s coming, Kentucky is going to run and there’s nothing any team has done to even come close to stopping them. They are third in the country in scoring with 95 points per game and fourth in assists with 20 a game. Louisville is going to try and slow the ‘Cats down with Rick Pitino’s godawful 2-3 matchup zone, but I don’t know if the ‘Cats are going to give them the time to set up in it. Louisville cannot guard Kentucky one-on-one, so expect to see the zone. And by the way, the Cards are ninety-second in scoring and one hundred and eleventh in assists. That’s not good
The bench- One thing that really doesn’t scare me about Louisville is their bench. Outside of talented freshman VJ King, they don’t have much in that regard. Most teams have had to foul Kentucky to slow them down: if this holds true and Rick Pitino is forced to play guards Tony Hicks, David Levitch, Ryan McMahon, along with bigs Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman, then things will go very well for Kentucky. Quentin Snider and Donovan Mitchell are going to have a hard enough time keeping Fox and Monk in check, the Cards do not want to see Levitch and MacMahon have to guard those two or Briscoe.
Louisville cannot score at times- There are portions of the game that Louisville will go on a prolonged scoring drought. Kentucky never goes on scoring droughts. This will play into the hands of the ‘Cats as they can pile on points while Louisville struggles to get them.
Cal owns Rick- John Calipari completely owns Rick Pitino. In Cal’s seven years on the job at Kentucky, Pitino has won one meeting, and that was by only three points in the Yum! Center with his best team against Cal’s worst team. Cal is 2-0 against Pitino in the postseason as well. This game is so in Pitino’s head that he gets too worked up and nervous that he changes his gameplan, and it gets to his players as well. My hope is that he tries to press Kentucky and the ‘Cats absolutely shred it.
What not to Like about the Matchup
Louisville's size down low- The Cards boast three seven footers with Mangok Mathiang, Anas Mahmoud, and Matz Stockman. The three of them don’t bring much to the table offensively speaking, but they can block shots and rebound. It will be more difficult for penetrating guards to get in the middle and hit layups. Monk’s mid-range jumper will have to be working. I’m not as worried about the rebounding as UK has jumped to fourth in rebounds and Louisville is fifth. Kentucky also just out-rebounded North Carolina, one of the best in the country and crashing the boards.
The matchup zone- I hate zone defenses. Louisville is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they are only allowing 59 points per game. The zone is confusing and can shell shock teams at first. Luckily, De’Aaron Fox is wise beyond his years and will find guys no matter what. Briscoe is also good at bullying his way to the basket to bust up the zone. But getting acclimated to it is still going to be a worry for me.
The first true road test for the Wildcats- This will be the first time that Kentucky will be involved in a true road game. But I’m not all that concerned. Kentucky has been in two high caliber pressure games already and is 1-1 in those. I would venture to say that UCL and UNC are much better than Louisville. And there will be plenty of blue that gets in, it always does.
Briscoe vs. Adel- Isaiah Briscoe had to guard Justin Jackson for most of the game against UNC and Jackson had a career night. While Briscoe is a great defender, Jackson’s height and length bothered him. He will be facing a similar task with Deng Adel. He is 6’7, not as tall as Jackson, but he is still taller than Briscoe. While Adel is only averaging 9.7 points per game, he can score more than that. He is a decent shooter, and I fear that he could drive on Briscoe.
The four spot- Calipari has lamented about the lack of production from Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel at the power forward position, especially on defense. Neither Gabriel nor Willis has taken ownership of the position, and Cal has been forced to rotate them in almost non-stop. Jaylen Johnson and Raymond Spalding are capable power forwards, and I think they could do some damage on offense.
I very much like Kentucky’s chances against the Cards. If the ‘Cats can combat the slog that is UofL basketball and continue to impose their will on offense, then the ‘Cats could win by double digits. But if Pitino can get his way and ugly up the game enough and keep the score low and close, then absolutely Louisville can win. I just trust the talent Kentucky has over the coaching of Rick Pitino in this particular matchup.
As an added bonus, check out my buddy Clay Ables’ podcast interview with the great Tom Leach. It is very insightful and entertaining, so give it a listen and help him support his growing podcast.