For some fairly obvious reasons, this Kentucky Wildcats vs Louisville Cardinals game may be downgraded a bit, but to do so would be unfair to what could be a pretty entertaining and a pretty good game.
Louisville enters the game at 10-2 and Kentucky 9-2. Louisville still wears red and Kentucky still wears blue. This is still going to be a war.
Let's get the elephant out of the room early. There is no Rick Pitino in this game, so if you are looking for some thoughts on Rick Pitino, go here.
It's also a bit strange to see both Kentucky and Louisville so poorly regarded at this point of the season.
At the time of writing, Louisville actually has the better RPI, according to Jerry Palm of CBS. The Cardinals are #33 with Kentucky in the unaccustomed RPI rating of #34.
The Wildcats are still ranked, at #16, but they have no quality wins. Neither do the Cardinals as their best win is #117 St Francis.
Kentucky's best win is over #75 Virginia Tech. So even though there is no Pitino on the bench, this is still very much a must-win game for both teams.
From what I have so far, David Padgett has done a great job in getting his team to play for him and they will be ready to play at Rupp Arena. In other words, it's still Kentucky vs Louisville. Let's meet the Cardinals.
#4 - G QUENTIN SNIDER - SR 6'2, 175
12.3 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.3 RPG
#0 - F VJ KING - SO 6'6, 190
9.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.9 APG
#22 - F DENG ADEL - JR 6'7, 200
15.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.7 APG
#13 - F RAY SPALDING - JR 6'10, 215
10.8 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.3 APG
#14 - F ANAS MAHMOUD - SR 7'0, 215
8.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.1 APG
#24 - F DWAYNE SUTTON - SO 6'5, 200
4.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.3 APG
#2 - G DARIUS PERRY - FR 6'2, 170
4.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 RPG
#30 - G RYAN MCMAHON - SO 6'0, 170
6.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 RPG
Quentin Snider has evolved into a solid point guard and the Louisville native will be playing at another level for his last shot at the Wildcats. He sees the court well and comes into the game with a 2.76 A/TO ratio. He hits 42.9% of his shots overall and 35.2% of his three-pointers. He is a shooter that can get hot and take over a game.
VJ King has moved over and has been playing the two-guard spot. He actually shoots the three-pointer well enough to keep the defense honest and hits 42.9% of his treys but just 39.2% overall.
King is a scrappy rebounder from the SG position but his ball handling can be a liability as he has 21 turnovers versus 11 assists.
Deng Adel is having his best season hitting 47.6% of his shots and 34.0% of his three-pointers. He is only averaging 1.6 rebounds over his past five games but has become a consistent scorer.
The strength of this Louisville team is the frontcourt as Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud have both played well. They are the main reason that Louisville is one of the top shot-blocking teams in the nation as Mahmoud averages 4.3 blocks a game and Spalding 2.3.
Spalding is coming off his best game of the year, a 21 point and 16 rebound performance against Grand Canyon, and he is close to averaging a double-double on the year. Spalding also averages 1.8 steals a game.
Mahmoud his still a good scorer around the rim, hitting 58.8% and also averages 1.2 steals a game. It's impressive how he had doubled his blocks output from the last year.
Due to some of the upheaval in the program, this is a thinner bench with not a lot of support at the guard positions. Darius Perry only plays about 13 minutes a game but he has an A/TO ratio right at 2.0. He is not a good shooter right now, hitting 35.7% overall and 23.1 from long range.
Ryan McMahon is new to the rotation and has just played in the last five games. 25 of his 29 shot attempts have been of the three-point variety and he hits 36%. He can get hot like he did against Albany where he drilled 5 of 8 treys. He can be a wildcard on Friday.
UNCA transfer Dwayne Sutton has played well off the bench and is a good rebounder. He hits 42.9% of his shots and 39.1% from long-range.
Jordan Nwora was playing well earlier in the air but seems to have his minutes limited lately. He has played just 35 minutes and scored just 2 points in his last five games.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
It's no shock that this is still going to be a gritty and tough defensive team and it will be a team that struggles with shooting. They hit 45.7% overall and 35.8% of their three-pointers. They still do a lot of good things defensively though with 8.4 blocks and 7.6 steals a game.
Most of these players have played in a Kentucky vs Louisville game and they will not be intimidated in walking into a what should be hostile Rupp Arena. Expect a grind in the usual tradition of this game as it will not be pretty.
It is interesting to note that David Padgett seems to have a better grasp of what he has and can expect with this team than John Calipari. The Wildcats were dominated by UCLA in what was a bad loss for them and if Kentucky does not come into this game with the right attitude, they will lose this game.
It will be interesting to see how Kentucky will respond with their backs against the wall. Louisville has played RPI #12 Purdue and #14 Seton Hall tough this year, so they can play with Kentucky.
Kentucky has the length and the depth, however. I thought that would lead Kentucky to the fairly easy win over UCLA and was wrong, but hopefully, this team is ready to break free of their inconsistencies.
Look for the Wildcats to earn a tough 73-67 win over the game Cardinals.