UK Vs. UL; Dream Game #2 Sweet 16


One of the biggest games of the tournament if not the year tips off Friday night at 9:45pm in a Sweet Sixteen matchup that not only the selection commit’s but the NCAA and CBS are drooling over.  The University of Kentucky Wildcats face  University of Louisville Cardinals who happen to be past two NCAA title holders as well as one of the biggest if not the biggest college sports rivalry in the nation  face off for an Elite 8 seat but just importantly to fans,  bragging rights in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

University of Louisville FootballLouisville, coached by Rick Pitino (coach at UK from 91-92 through 97-98) comes into the matchup as the Midwest’s #4 seed and a five point favorite on a neutral floor and atmosphere in Indianapolis. Kentucky on the other hand comes in as the #8 seed in the Midwest and not many were happy with that seeding but if you’re in the dance you have a chance. Pitino is excellent during the tourney breaking down teams and looking for matchups but both each  team knows each other in and out. Pitino and Calipari faced off in the 1996 Final Four where Kentucky defeated UMass to go ahead a win the title that year and have went down as one of the best teams in collegiate history.

Pitino is no stranger to the NCAA tourney and has an impressive 12-0 record in the Sweet Sixteen, has taken three teams to the final four and has two championship rings in his hall of fame career. The man on the opposing bench is no slouch himself also taking three teams to the final four, one title, and seconds away from another.(Without the Derik Rose incident) John Calipari is 15 and 2 against Pitino since taking over the winningest program of all time. With two distinct coaching styles both get the job done and keep the frantic fans in Kentucky happy and in the past two seasons full of joy.

Push all that aside the 9:45 matchup that will more than likely be around 10:15 will be one of the most watched Sweet Sixteen games in history if not one the most watched tournament games in history. In late December Kentucky defeated Louisville in Rupp Arena without the stud in the second half that keeps the Wildcats churning after scoring 17 in the first half. Julius Randle, the SEC Freshman of the Year has collected 22 consecutive double doubles this season and will be a huge factor in the much awaited game.

Louisville also has a stud. Russ Smith, a senior guard decided to return after last year’s title run and forego the draft to work on his game and has done so being more of a facilitator than just a black hole. The kid is ice-cold when it counts and wants the ball when the clock is winding down. Smith and Randle are in the top 15 in the running for the Wooden Award, one of college basketball’s most prestigious awards.

Now let’s get down to the keys to the game for each team. Pitino and the Cardinals will run a sagging 2-3 zone to keep track of Kentucky’s bigs but will quickly double Randle in the post to keep Harrell out of foul trouble. The Cards will press after made buckets to fluster the freshman into turnovers and if the refs aren’t enforcing the newly implemented rules this year than you can bet the  Cards will force turnovers and try to turn them into easy transition buckets. As stated earlier foul trouble will be an issue especially with Montrezl Harrell, a player that has dramatically improved not only since last year but since the late December meeting.

The keys for the Wildcats are to hit mid range and outside jumpers to force Louisville to extend the zone creating driving lanes for the twins and room for the bigs around the bucket. The Wildcats need to come out with a quick start and not have a slow start as well as shoot well at the free throw line, both problems the Cat’s have had this year. As far as defense the Wildcats will run man to man but don’t be surprised if Calipari throws a zone at the Cards if Willie gets into foul trouble or the Cardinals are cold from the floor. Being that it’s in a dome statistics suggest that both teams will shoot not as well as usual but it’s no advantage for either team, unless one is scoring more in the paint and in transition.

Keys for both teams is to try to kick the nerves, win 50 50 balls and win the battle on the glass. Which team hustles the most, stays out of foul trouble, has a decent time at the line, and cleans the glass will most likely win the Battle of the Bluegrass.

It’s a shame that these two teams had to meet so early in the tournament but will put on a show for their fans who traveled well to Indy and expect to see and even crowd. Louisville is favored by 5 which is mind numbing after Kentucky is coming off beating the first 35-0 team since the Bobby Knight days and according to Wichita State’s coach he believes this Kentucky team is the best he has seen in the past two years dating back to the Wichita State vs Louisville Final Four matchup last year. Fans you can throw that as far as you want but it will be a tight game and best believe how the refs call fouls will help decide the winner. Refs don’t win games but they sure have a part in the outcome.

No matter who wins tonight or if there are couches burnt in Lexington after midnight or flash mobs roaming Louisville please remember it’s just a ball game. Get with fellow friends, have a good time and remember don’t let friends drink and drive. It’s hard to see a favorite get put out and extremely tough to be put out by your biggest rival but remember the Commonwealth has brought the trophy home the past two years. Whoever wins I hope to see them move on and show the nation that in Kentucky we may not need a pair of shoes but enjoy pairs of championships.