By HAL MORRIS and DAVID BROCK
10:15 AM EST, December 27, 2012
Hal Morris, the assistant sports editor at the Advocate-Messenger, is a lifelong Louisville fan. He still has his T-shirt from the original “Dream Game” between Kentucky and Louisville from 1983, but notes that he has sadly outgrown it in the last 29 years.
Morris grew up in Louisville, but also lived in Cynthiana, home of former UK coach Joe B. Hall. But that did not sway his allegiance to his Cardinals.
David Brock grew up rooting for Kentucky and likes to voice his disdain for that school to the west of Lexington when he can. If Kentucky loses, Brock has vowed to congratulate Hal before beginning an angry hibernation for several months in an undisclosed location where he won’t have to hear about the game. That location may or may not be in the vicinity of Antarctica.
So Saturday’s annual bragging rights game isn’t just important for the standpoint of having your team win its biggest game. It’s a chance to rub your friends’ noses in it for a whole season and to avoid having it done to you.
The two die-hard fans shared their thoughts on the the game, and who will win:
1. Who will be the best player on the court when Kentucky and Louisville play?
Morris: The obvious answer may be Russ Smith, who is having an All-American-caliber season. But the best player will be Peyton Siva. The senior is playing smart and playing with confidence. And there is no one on Kentucky’s team who can hang with him in the backcourt, he’s just to polished for the out of control Archie Goodwin or the mentally fragile Ryan Harrow.
Siva began playing like the McDonald’s All-American he was coming out of high school at the end of last season, and is in full control of his game right now. He can control a game without scoring much, which is what a true point guard does. And if his jumper is falling, he already made more 3-pointers this season than he had all of last year, he will dominate the game.
Brock: Based on potential, UK has candidates 1-4, but I know we are discussing the here and now. It will still be Nerlens Noel, with Alex Poythress a surprise second.
There is a saying that goes, roughly, "potential gets coaches fired," but when you've got John Calipari on the bench, it is more likely to be the other coach.
Those who lament Calipari creating a finishing school for pampered basketball prodigies overlook the fact the elite players he brings in are typically extremely coachable. From all accounts, Noel doesn't need to be prodded to play like his flat top is on fire and has shown he can impact the game from almost anywhere on the court.
While we more or less know what Louisville brings to the table (bad Rick Pitino-Karen Sypher joke deleted), Poythress, Goodwin and even Kyle Wiltjer could have statement games out of nowhere. I seem to recall Card fans being extremely confident a couple years ago until Josh Harrellson wiped his feet all over the new carpet and raided the fridge during the Yum! Center's grand opening.
Incidentally, UofL’s emblematic angry bird and the refrigerators of their country-fried corporate benefactors are full of potential as well. Potential to spread avian flu. Be leary of any buffets and bring plenty of hand sanitizer Wildcats.
2. What will be the three biggest keys to the game?
Morris: 1. Louisville has to overcome the mental block of not beating Kentucky since John Calipari has been in town. Louisville has the better team, but they have to believe that and I think they do. Plus, Pitino would do just about anything to get this win. Both coaches may play it off as just another game, and with UK struggling this year, it may be. But to Louisville, this is the most important game the Cardinals will play all year.
2. The Cardinals have to keep generating turnovers like they have all season. And against a backcourt which is, face it, nowhere near as good as they have had in the past, that is going to be the key to the game. Siva and Russ Smith have been terrorizing backcourts all year and Kentucky’s won’t be anywhere near the best one they’ve faced.
3. The Louisville frontcourt of Chane Behanan, Montrez Harrell and the reserves have to control the glass. Nerlens Noel, whose offensive game is not good at best, is a force on defense and can rebound. But the Cardinals are stronger, much stronger, and have to show that strength and outrebound and frankly beat up the weaker Wildcats. Alex Poythress does not play with much passion, and if he dies not this game, Behanan will eat him alive. Louisville is deeper and better across the front lines and have to show it Saturday.
Brock: Unfortunately for this year's UK team — and my own selfish purposes — this may be the purest distillation of Pitino's frenetic defensive strategy since he was at Kentucky. It is highly effective and, as I recall, goes something like this: foul so much the refs give up calling fouls.
I know they use diverse looks on defense, but the idea is still to make the other team wilt amidst a hacking blur of elbows. In the eye of that maelstrom, the refs develop a kind of visual numbness, where a closed-fist punch looks the same as a love tap.
(Oddly, I think those vision problems are also a symptom of bird flu.)
The biggest key will be how well UK handles the ball, which I don't think will present the problem many expect it to be. Ryan Harrow has been improving and turning the ball over wasn't one of his problems to begin with.
I also think Kentucky’s — specifically Kyle Wiltjer's — ability to hit shots will be crucial. If UK is able to spread the floor and knock down three pointers it will open things up for Noel, Poythress and, most importantly, Archie Goodwinm to get to the rim.
Some keys for UofL include:
n Keep the NCAA from discovering Peyton Siva has been at UofL for 12 years.
n Russ "Russdiculous" Smith can’t live up to his Russ-dimwitted moniker by playing like there is 5 second shot clock.
n Chane Behanan must avoid picking up three fouls and another gag order from his coach before the first media timeout.
3. Who will win the game?
Morris: Louisville should and will win the game. But I don’t expect a blowout. Louisville has superior talent at just about every position, find me one person Kyle Wiltjer can guard, and aside from Goodwin and Noel, the Wildcats do not have the athletes Louisville does this year.
I wouuld have given Kentucky the advantage at just one position, center, and that is just because Gorgui Dieng was not expected to play because of a broken wrist. But since it was announced Wednesday that he would play, the Cards are better at every spot. Still, I expect Kentucky to come out and play well. “Camp Cal,” which sounds like he is actually making his team work hard — a real novel approach — has seemed to work so far. But UK is not playing the Lipscombs, Portlands and Marshalls of the world. And this is only UK’s second road game. The Cats melted down like a Japanese reactor at Notre Dame, but should fare better this time. If not, Saturday and SEC¿play is going to be rough.
I’ll say Louisville 65, UK¿59.
Brock: Like lots of things that were cool in the 1980s, UofL has seen an inexplicable resurgence of popularity and stature of late, so I expect it to be a good game. Having said that, Kentucky wins.
Calipari insists this is just another game, but anyone who thinks he doesn't burn with the desire to stay ahead of his one-time buddy is foolish. He has been building toward this game since the beginning of practice and will deploy his superior resources accordingly.
I fully expect Gorgui Dieng to complete his post-Christmas miracle and recover in time to play Saturday. However, I think he gets upstaged and outswatted by Kentucky's twin towers.
Cats win 75-64. Merry Cauley-Stein and Happy Nerlens Noel to all.
4. Who has the more difficult coaching job this year — Rick Pitino or John Calipari?
Morris: Well, Calipari may have done his best coaching job because he really didn’t have to coach last year’s team. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took charge and Cal could just manage egos and lets his uber-talented squad roll on. That is not the case this year. UK has one of the youngest teams in the country. Calipari has shown he can get teams ready, but he may have to do his best coaching job to avoid a down year and bad seed in the NCAA¿Tournament, which is all he cares about anyway.
Pitino may have more pressure this year, but his job is less difficult. He has a veteran squad, led by Siva, and has crazy athleticism at just about every spot. Russ Smith may drive him up the wall, sure, but if you want evidence Pitino is enjoying this year, go to YouTube and see what happened when a reporter’s phone went off during his postgame press conference a few weeks ago. The old Pitino during a tough year may have exploded. This Pitino just laughed it off and answered the phone. Does that sound like a coach with a difficult job?
Brock: Calipari always has the most difficult coaching job, but not simply because he sends most of his teams to the NBA every year. He also has to live up to the historically great standards set by both the program and himself.
Louisville returns a full cast of nicknames and inflated egos, so Pitino seemingly has a lot less stress. He has mentioned his lack of worry about his veteran team staying sharp with a long layoff since their last game, for whatever that’s worth.
It is clear this year's UK team is having a harder time figuring out the way he wants them to play, but Cal is up to the challenge. I won't worry until at least mid-January.
5. Which team needs a win more this year?
Morris: Louisville needs this win way more than Kentucky does. The Cardinals are 0-4 against Calipari and Rick Pitino undoubtedly wants this win in the worse way, regardless of what he may say in a press conference.
I think UK fans have already written off this season, look at how much football has been talked about on the sports talk shows recently. Unless the Wildcats are beating teams by 100, the stuffed shirts in the lower arena at Rupp are just not happy. So there really is no pressure on UK to win this game.
Louisville has all the expectations this year. They have the high ranking and lots of players coming back from a Final Four team. Until then, there was talk whether Pitino would ever get it done at Louisville. If the Cardinals win the title, that give Pitino two titles and seven Final Fours. That would then place the pressure squarely on Cal, who has two (official) Final Fours and one title.
Brock: It's the "The Dread Game II." Louisville.
The Cards needs it desperately. In much the same way a loss to UofL in last year's Final Four would have been devastating for me and the good guys, this one would be hard for Card fans to stomach. Sort of like one of those sandwich-like monstrosities their parent company peddles, which consist of bacon and mashed potatoes between two 'roided up fried chicken breasts.
All the pressure is on the Cards and Pitino.
This is the best and maybe last crack Pitino has at a vulnerable Kentucky team. Pitino knows it, the players know it and every bar hopper on the Yum! Center concourse knows it.
If they can't do it at home with all of the apparent advantages of experience and pent up, self-righteous anger, I simply don't know when they will.
I won't make any macabre predictions like Rick did last year about people hurling themselves off bridges, but a loss will definitely set off some grumbling among the faithful. If they lose and bow out early in March, look out.
6. What are the chances of both teams making the Final Four again like they did last year?
Morris: Good. There are no great teams this year, and UK should be better by the end of the year.
If Louisville doesn’t make it, it will be a major disappointment. This is Pitino’s best team since he’s been at Louisville and the Cards are expected to make the Final Four. Until a regional final, Louisville should not run into a team with a real shot at beating them.
Kentucky has the more difficult task ahead. There seems to be no true leader of this team yet, and who knows when one shows up. But by March, expect UK to be in the hunt for another Final Four.
Brock: Pretty good. Overall it looks like a down year for college basketball, so the tournament is probably winnable for a lot of teams this year.
Cal has shown the ability to mold his young teams into dangerous swag monsters come March. It's his toughest job yet, but I think he will marshall the considerable talents of his young team by the end of the season.
The Cardinals have shown the ability to break down mediocre teams thus far and should batter their way through a Big East, which looks like a shell of its former self in its final throws. With a high seed in hand, their maul-and-advance style should fare well in the watered down brackets.
However, I will be surprised if Pitino pulls off what he hasn't since he was at UK and goes to the Final Four in consecutive years. Unfortunately for UofL, it looks like he lost the ability to make that happen when the Celtics lured him from Lexington with approximately $1 trillion, a leprechaun butler and whatever else they threw at him in exchange for four years of mostly lousy basketball.
7. What's it going to be like if your team loses?
Morris: Ugh, there are no words to describe how bad this will be. This would Louisville’s worst loss since Arkansas’ U.S. Reed threw in a halfcourt shot to beat the Cardinals in the 1981 NCAA¿Tournament. No matter what Louisville does, even winning the NCAA title, would erase the stink of a loss to a lesser UK team.
All of the pressure is on Louisville, and there will be a different kind of pressure if the Cardinals cannot win on their home court. A loss might literally make me sick.
What would make the loss even worse is having to listen to Big Blue Nation and their enlightened ilk go on and on about how the Cats own Cardinals and that traitor Rick Pitino. And they would be right, and I never want to admit they are right.
Brock: So, my friend is getting married the day after the game and I believe the rehearsal is scheduled for approximately halftime of the game. I would like to say a loss would barely register, because we have so thoroughly dominated the series recently, but must admit this has the potential to get ugly.
I've forewarned my buddy that I should be monitored around the microphone during the reception if they lose. Otherwise, guests should buckle up for one of the darkest, most profane wedding toasts of all time.
If UofL wins, I know it will be a long year for me. That wasn't a Mayan apocalypse fallout shelter I was building the last few months.
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