Louisville Cardinals vs. Kentucky Wildcats -8.5 — National Semifinal #1
You may not have heard this, but these two teams don’t seem to care for one another too much. In other breaking news college basketball has decided to add a three-point line and has instituted a “shot-clock” to prevent teams from simply holding the ball for minutes at a time (a pretty good idea methinks…)
The talk of the sporting world this week has focused almost solely on the intensity and passion of the heated rivalry between the Louisville Cardinals and Big Blue Nation. It certainly makes for a fun setting and possibly as much interest in the Final Four as I can remember in the past ten years. The rivalry has been the dominant story line, but once the ball tips, the dominant factor will become the Kentucky Wildcats and their “could they really beat the Toronto Raptors” collection of NBA (and possibly “elite NBA”) talent.
Can Kentucky overlook the hysteria, overcome the emotion, steady their amplified nerves and adrenaline and just come out and play basketball? Because if they can, they should win this game and they should win it with some room to spare.
Let’s start with the basics. Kentucky is better at every single position on the floor than Louisville, including their bench. Many will cite Louisville’s one advantage as being on the bench, not the players waiting to check in, but rather the sartorial splendor and tactical wizardry of Mr. Rick Pitino. Look, Pitino is an amazing coach. He should have gotten into the Hall of Fame this year (early reports are he just missed again), but he isn’t going to be able to stop the relentless attacking penetration of Michael Kidd Gilchrest.
Also, as great as Pitino is, anyone giving him a huge, insurmountable advantage over John Calipari is just being spiteful and letting personal feelings cloud their opinion (a no-no for us wagerers especially). Calipari is a really good coach, and he is bringing an infinitely better roster to tonight’s party. Don’t get too swept up in the Pitino factor. It is slightly overrated.
Peyton Siva is a lightning quick and explosive point guard. He is also a senior to Kentucky point guard’s Marquis Teague’s freshman status. However, in this matchup, experience doesn’t necessarily equal poise and stage presence. Who is the one who has committed a bevy of dumb fouls and has been disqualified from two of their team tourney games so far? Yep. It’s not Marquis Teague. So at point guard, advantage Kentucky (slightly).
The interior play of Louisville has been solid. The shot blocking of Dieng and the all-around play of Chane Bohannan have been excellent. But are you taking that pair over Anthony Davis and Terrance Jones? No way.
The advantages for Kentucky are everywhere. We haven’t even gotten into Darius Miller and Doron Lamb yet, perhaps the two steadiest offensive performers throughout the post season.
Kentucky is loaded, and they play loose. They are blowing out good teams even when they play well. Baylor might not have been at their 100% best, but Indiana was. And Kentucky hung 102 on them. For all the talk of pressure, I really don’t think the UK kids are feeling it much. None of them are “locals.” And very few of them will be living in Lexington three months from today when the NBA comes calling. For better or for worse, it’s the world the NCAA and NBA collaboratively created, and whether you like him or loathe him, Calipari exploits/manages the system better than anyone. The rivalry and hysteria? That’s for the media. Tonight’s game? That’s for the Kentucky players – one last weekend to bask in the joy of simply playing together and having fun.
So tonight, I expect them to just ‘play.’ And if assuming they do that, the Big Blue freight train keeps thundering towards the inevitable. Another banner hanging in Rupp Arena. I like Kentucky to continue their 1990 UNLV-like blitzing through the tourney and beat their fifth straight opponent by double digits, despite a valiant and spirited effort from the very tough Louisville Cardinals.
Free Pick: Kentucky Wildcats -8.5