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Saturday will mark Round 1 of Cal vs. Mack

Chris Mack has a dramatic history with a cross-town rival. Did he bring that same vigor with him to Louisville?

On Saturday, fans will get to witness the first installment of John Calipari vs. Chris Mack when the Cats take on the Cards inside the KFC YUM! Center.

The game will be important for both programs, not only from a resume standpoint, but also for the obvious in-state bragging rights. The addition of Chris Mack has U of L fans in resurgence mode and beating Kentucky would be a huge feather in his cap as he begins his tenure as the Louisville head coach. This weekend you can count on Chris Mack’s Cardinals being prepared to grab, kick, and claw for 40 straight minutes.

Louisville has had very little success against Calipari coached UK teams. Since he arrived in Lexington, Calipari is 9-2 against Louisville. That is something that I’m sure Vince Tyra and others made certain that Chris Mack had a plan to change before bringing him on as the head coach.

I would be fine to see the Cats keep on stomping the Cards year after year, but in order for a rivalry to be truly great there needs to be some parody. Only time will tell which direction things go. Round 1 of Calipari vs Mack will be Saturday at 2:00 pm on ESPN2.

Personally, I believe that the Calipari - Mack rivalry will transform into something just as good or maybe even better than that of Cal vs Pitino. It may take some time, but eventually there will be a sly comment or situation that will ripple into something more. Then from there, it will be on forever.

My reasoning behind this is simple - look at Mack’s history with his former rival, the University of Cincinnati. You may remember the 2011 infamous brawl between Mack’s Xavier team and Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats.

In fact, it was one of the biggest brawls that college basketball has seen in recent memory, resulting in fighting on the court and in the hallways of the Cintas Center. Here is a video reminder of the insane bench clearing brawl.

Just last year, it was Mick Cronin who instigated another riff after Mack’s Xavier team beat Cincinnati in the annual Crosstown Shootout. Mack swiftly responded to Cronin’s allegations that a Xavier player cursed at him in the post game handshake line.

”I know one thing, the narrative is not going to be J.P. Macura and Mick Cronin,” Mack said. “There are two sides to the story. There’s a reason their coach was issued a technical in that game. I know that reason because the official told me what happened, so I’m not going to have the narrative be anything other than us playing better than Cincinnati and beating Cincinnati.”

I have to be honest, I love how that situation was handled by Mack. He has proven to be a no nonsense type of guy who is extremely direct in his dealings with the media and even with his peers. I can clearly see him taking an opportunity to address his disdain for the University of Kentucky or even for Calipari himself if the opportunity presents itself.

Mack willing and regularly stands up for his players, so all it may take is a question worded specifically enough to draw out a comment that he takes offense to. I will have my fingers crossed that this escalates sooner than later because it would be wildly entertaining for Cards and Cats fans alike.

The departure of Rick Pitino will obviously have a lingering impact on the basketball program at the University of Louisville. It also created a bit of apathy in the rivalry with Kentucky, especially after last year’s dismantling of the Cardinals in Rupp Arena. Of course, fans, players, and coaches all still understand the vast importance of this game and badly want to win it.

But let’s be honest, Pitino and Calipari didn’t like each other, and it was obvious. Maybe now that Pitino is out of coaching (at least at the collegiate level), there is a lot less animosity between the two and judging by Calipari’s comments a few weeks ago, maybe even a sense of pity for Pitino.

There is no denying that even though the series was extremely lopsided in favor of UK, that it was a lot of fun following the narrative of Pitino vs Calipari. That is now gone.

It will be up to Mack and Calipari to rekindle the fire in this rivalry. I have a feeling that Saturday’s game will provide all the fuel that is necessary to keep this thing going full throttle for a long time to come.

Do you think the Cal-Mack rivalry will be as good as Cal-Pitino?