BOZICH | Can Louisville win? Can Kentucky lose? - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Can Louisville win? Can Kentucky lose?

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Here are two questions we have not been conditioned to ask this winter:

Can Louisville win (on the road at Florida State, with 14 points subtracted from its starting lineup)?

Can Kentucky lose (at home against a surging Arkansas team that has won seven straight in the Southeastern Conference and also handled the Wildcats twice last season)?

Quick answers:

Louisville can win, but I'm not betting your tax refund on it.

Kentucky won't lose. But the Hogs, ranked 18th, are the kind of team the Wildcats will see on Sweet Sixteen weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, this will be a more intriguing Saturday than we've been conditioned to watch this winter.

Jeff Sagarin's computer power ratings say that the Wildcats should be favored by 18 ½ and the Cardinals by 8.5. I expected the numbers from Las Vegas to be smaller than that when they are posted Friday afternoon.

They were. UK opened as a 17-point favorite by the number dropped to 15. Louisville is favored by 4 1/2.

Arkansas has been beaten by double figures twice this season – by 14 by Mississippi and by 18 at Iowa State. In games against Georgia, Ole Miss, Louisiana State and Texas A&M, the four other SEC teams expected to earn NCAA Tournament bids, the Razorbacks are 3-1.

Has anybody mentioned Arkansas beat Kentucky twice last season – 87-85 in overtime at Bud Walton Arena and 71-67 in overtime in Rupp Arena?

They have Bobby Portis, a 6-foot-10 power forward. DraftExpress.com projects that Portis will be the 20th selection in the 2015 NBA Draft.

But Portis is not the guy who overwhelmed Kentucky last season. In two games, he scored 20 points with 16 rebounds. Solid, but hardly first-round NBA numbers.

For Kentucky, the problem players were Michael Qualls, a 6-6 guard, and Rashad Madden, his 6-5 sidekick. Qualls scored 32 points overall and shot 11 free throws in one game. Madden scored 30 points and made three three-pointers in the upset in Fayetteville.

Darrin Horn, an analyst for the SEC Network, has worked multiple Arkansas games this winter. Horn was eager to analyze the UK-Arkansas game, which is scheduled for 4 p.m. in Rupp Arena. He likes Portis, but not as much as he likes the ability of Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky's hybrid frontcourt force, to guard Portis.

“Cauley-Stein has the ability to guard Portis himself, inside and out,” Horn said. “That's huge. Arkansas can't win without a huge night from Portis.”

Any other keys? Horn had several:

2. Kentucky will get open threes against Arkansas' full-court pressure. Most teams do. “They have to make them,” Horn said.

3. Arkansas is determined to bring fatigue to the game with its size, depth and pressure. “You can't do that to Kentucky,” Horn said.

4) Arkansas excels on the offensive glass, a statistic where the Razorbacks rank second to only Kentucky in the SEC. “Definitely an important area to watch,” said Horn.

5) The Razorbacks are also solid shooting the three-pointer. In the SEC, only Vanderbilt makes a higher percentage. “But I think UK's big perimeter (defenders) will bother them,” Horn said.

As for Louisville's visit to Florida State, which begins at noon, there is no videotape to study from last season. The teams have not played in the same conference since their time together in the Metro Conference. Paging Pat Kennedy and George McCloud.

The Cardinals are difficult to analyze because they're still learning to play without Chris Jones. It did not end well at Syracuse. And it did not go well at Georgia Tech – until the final nine minutes.

Florida State is a below-average (31.4 percent) three-point shooting team that ranks last in the ACC in assist to turnover percentage. In fact, coach Leonard Hamilton's team averages more turnovers (nearly 14 per game) than any team in the league.

Sounds like the perfect team to press, although Louisville's ability to press is uncertain with Quentin Snider, Shaqquan Aaron and Anton Gill doing more of the work.

How does Florida State excel?

By blocking shots and giving the ball to Xavier Rathan-Mayes, their 6-4 freshman guard. He has scored 81 points in FSU's last four games. Jahlil Okafor of Duke is the only ACC freshman averaging more than the 14.4 points Rathan-Mayes is averaging.

It's true: Rathan-Mayes scored 30 points in the final 4:38 of FSU's loss to Miami Wednesday. The Seminoles are only 15-14, 7-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Is he good enough to beat Louisville? Is Arkansas good enough to make Kentucky grind to the final minute?

Get ready for a more intriguing weekend than we have seen all winter.

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