The Bluegrass state boasts one of the best rivalries in college basketball and frankly any sport. There will surely be serious arguments this week and even harmless banter between the two sides, leading up to the big Sweet 16 matchup Friday.
It was not long ago, 2012 to be exact, that two elderly gentlemen got into a fist fight at a dialysis clinic just days before the Final Four matchup between the Cards and the Cats. This game does not have an immediate trip to the national championship game for the winner like that one did, but it definitely has the same feeling of excitement, emotion, and anxiety within both fan bases.
I don’t think we will hear of another brawl in a medical facility but one thing is certain and that is that Indianapolis is about to be overran with a sea of red and blue. The Cats super-talented freshmen took the first game this season back in December at Rupp Arena, 73-66. Both teams are completely different now and the home crowd advantage shouldn’t be much of an advantage for either team, now at a neutral sight.
Here’s my five reasons that the Cards avenge their December loss to UK.
1.) Montrezl Harrell is a much better player now and should be able to keep the Cats defense honest in the paint. In the first game, Harrell was limited to 21 minutes and only had six points and four rebounds. He has improved his offensive game as well as his defensive skills and is now a force in the paint.
2.) The Cards are now rebounding much better as a team, thanks in large to the emergence of Stephan Van Treese. Van Treese had only one point and five rebounds in the first game and looked confused on defense when he was in. He has been playing very good lately and has accepted his role on the team. His hustle and patented offensive rebound “tap-outs” to the guards is a main reason for the Cards’ recent successful run.
3.) Louisville leads the nation in turnover margin at +6.8 and the Cats are ranked 273rd nationally in that same category with a -1.3 margin. In the NCAA Tournament, every possession is critical and the Cards have a huge advantage there. On the season, UK has had at least 10 turnovers in every game except nine, including four straight and 11 of their last 12.
4.) If defense wins you championships then the Cards are sitting pretty to advance and repeat as national champs. Louisville has one of the best overall defenses in basketball and ranks 14th nationally, giving up only 60.7 points per game. They also rank second in steals per game (10.1), 19th in field goal percentage defense (39.5) and third in 3-pt. field goal defense (28.6). The team is defense is at its best while the Cats offense has been steadily declining all season.
5.) Rick Pitino is undefeated in Sweet 16 games as a coach. While UK’s John Calipari has gotten the best of Pitino recently, this is not a December game for bragging rights. This game has more on the line and with a veteran team that has been tested and overcome offensive woes in the last two games, I expect to see a masterful coaching job by Rick once again.
Stay connected with KentuckySports.co to find out the five reasons why Kentucky wins, tomorrow afternoon.
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