BOZICH | Who Needs It More, Louisville Or Kentucky?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – This is not the Louisville-Kentucky basketball game we were fussing about in October. Not even close.
Those were the days when Kentucky earned 27 first-place votes in the pre-season Associated Press college basketball and Louisville earned 14. They were ranked number one (UK) and number three (Cardinals). But that was only going to be a temporary thing. By the time both teams got to Rupp Arena on Dec. 28, they'd be ranked one and two.
It was a temporary thing, all right.
Rick Pitino's team is ranked sixth and John Calipari's team is 18th. None of the 65 voters placed Kentucky higher than 11th on his ballot, and John Feinstein of National Public Radio and Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated do not include the Wildcats in the top 20.
Don't get the wrong idea. It's not that Louisville has played much better than Kentucky. The Wildcats have played three top 20 teams – and lost to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina. Louisville has played one – and lost to the Spartans.
According to Ken Pomeroy's computer power rankings, Louisville does not have a single win against a team ranked in his top 100. Kentucky has three beating Boise State (54), Providence (71) and Belmont (98).
How unusual is this? Extremely.
Even that UK team that plunged into the NIT last season had one early Top 50 win. Louisville had three early ones a year ago.
Pomeroy shares his data starting with the 2003 season. This is the first time that at least one of the two programs didn't deliver a win over a Top 50 opponent prior to UK-U of L game.
So what do we have?
Confusion? Lots of fussing about which team needs it more – Kentucky because its fans will get flighty if the Cards win in Rupp or Louisville because this will make Calipari 5-1 over Pitino at UK.
On Thursday, the word that I received from Brian Edwards, a sports handicapper in Las Vegas, is he considered Kentucky three points better because of the homecourt advantage and the more demanding schedule the Wildcats have played. But Edwards said he would not be surprised if the opening line was closer to 4 ½.
The game opened as pick ‘em.
Pomeroy's numbers have not moved for more than a week. His formula likes the Cardinals to steal one in Rupp Arena by a point.
Jeff Sagarin is another computer power rankings guy. His formula sees the game just as close, but with Kentucky about a point better.
Who isn't, including the coaches?
"Kentucky is going to be a great team come March," Pitino said. "We just have to hope they aren't a great team come tomorrow."
"There are games that we won that are good wins for us but they're not (against) a team that's in the top five or top 10," Calipari said. "So how many opportunities will we have at games like that, how many are we going to have from here on in?"
Not many. Check the Wildcats' 18-game odyssey through the Southeastern Conference. Florida is the only other Top 25 test. Four other SEC teams are ranked in Pomeroy's Top 50, but Arkansas and Louisiana State need to prove they're legit.
Collecting quality non-conference victories has not been a problem for Louisville since the Cardinals were working in Conference USA in 2005. The Big East provided a regular stream of magical moments – and television exposure.
This season the basketball program will get a smaller serving of what the U of L football program endured – more mediocrity than we're used to seeing in years.
Connecticut is legit. Memphis is legit.
SMU mighty be legit (because of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown), but we're talking about a program that has not played in the NCAA Tournament since 1993 and hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1988.
So both teams need this game for more reasons than Twitter trash talk. They need it for their NCAA Tournament resumes.
Louisville needs to stop Julius Randle from exploiting the gap in the middle of its defense. Kentucky needs to show that its perimeter guys can deliver against tough veteran players like Russ Smith, Chris Jones, Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear.
And both teams need to start performing like the teams the world expected them to be in October.
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