CRAWFORD | Game on: Louisville at Kentucky, an early look
Taking an early look at the University of Louisville's trip to rival Kentucky on Friday at noon.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Like so many other things, the basketball rivalry between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky loses a little of its edge with Rick Pitino out of the picture.
David Padgett, Louisville’s interim coach, is a pretty safe bet to appear on the podium after Friday’s game in Rupp Arena, win or lose. I can’t imagine him departing with the kind of salute for Kentucky fans that Pitino shared in what turned out to be his final appearance in Rupp two seasons ago.
So it’s different, though the rivalry is no less heated in the offices and classrooms of the Commonwealth, no less a matter of pointed barbs and ribbing on the factory and warehouse floors.
It’s different for other reasons, too. First of all, the rankings are all over the place. Kentucky is No. 7 in the nation in the Associated Press poll, Louisville unranked but the No. 29 vote-getter.
The computer rankings are less certain about that gap. Ken Pomeroy’s rankings have Kentucky No. 18 after Saturday’s loss to (No. 51) UCLA, while Louisville is at No. 32. The Sagarin ratings have it Kentucky No. 21 and Louisville No. 22. The Ratings Percentage Index has Louisville No. 34 and Kentucky No. 35.
The teams are a combined 1-7 against the Sagarin Top 50, Kentucky’s win over (No. 34) Virginia Tech in Rupp Arena the only outlier. They don’t have a KenPom Tier A win between them.
VIDEO | Eric Crawford previews Louisville's trip to Kentucky
So when they meet on Friday at 1 p.m. in a CBS telecast, both will be teams who are still figuring things out. For Kentucky, it’s the understandable explanation, “we’re young.” That mantra is getting to be as old as some of its players, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also true. Kentucky is the youngest team in college basketball. You can look it up. (Duke is second-youngest.)
For the Cardinals, it’s merely that their Hall of Fame coach was (effectively) cut loose the week before practice began and an interim coach -- the 31-year-old Padgett, making his first stab at head-coaching – was named two days before it started. Everything since then has been a learning process. This trip to Rupp Arena will be a part of that.
“To be honest, we haven't spoken one word about Kentucky, and I'm not just saying that,” Padgett said. “We really haven't. We were 110 percent focused on this (Grand Canyon) game. I told the guys yesterday after practice, I said, 'I don't even want you guys thinking about going home. We need to win this game tomorrow and get momentum going into next week.' Now, obviously, I'll start taking a look at them. At the same time, I've got two little boys that are really going to enjoy Christmas, so I'm going to enjoy it with them."
Padgett said he hasn’t been looking ahead to the game, looking forward to it or anything else. He said he couldn’t afford to.
“The only film of Kentucky I've seen is our game from last year,” Padgett said. “I saw them play earlier in the year, a couple of minutes on TV. We don't look ahead, especially this year, we don't look ahead at all. We've taken it day-by-day so we haven't spoken one word about Kentucky."
Calipari didn’t say anything about Louisville after Kentucky’s loss to UCLA in New Orleans. But he did tell his players that they could not turn in a half-hearted effort in any of their next four games (and he could’ve easily said the next eight) – which come against Louisville, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee.
“I told them the next four games we play, we can lose every one,” Calipari said. “You don't play with the will to win, you don't come up with balls, and even if you do, you could still get beat by the teams we got coming up to play.”
On the court, the matchup is a little different from recent years, too.
Both have been poor defensive rebounding teams so far this season. Louisville’s opponents are rebounding 32.1 percent of their misses, ranking the Cardinals No. 276 in Division I. Kentucky’s opponents are rebounding 30.6 percent of their misses, good for 228th. Kentucky, however, has been one of the nation’s top offensive rebounding teams, grabbing 37.4 percent of its own missed shots.
Kentucky also seems to have a better sense for where its bread is buttered offensively. The Wildcats rely far less on the three-pointer, and get 60.8 percent of their scoring from two-point baskets, with just 24 percent of their attempts coming from three-point shots. U of L scores 30.2 percent of its points from three-point range, but launches 35.7 percent of its shots from there. The Cardinals get 51 percent of their scoring from two-point range, the same percentage, roughly, of their shots that come from there.
Both are respectable defensive teams, though their relatively low level of overall competition may mask some weaknesses. Louisville is No. 16 and Kentucky No. 22 in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ranking.
Both teams are long and athletic, both among the 10 tallest teams in the nation by average height. The minutes they get from bench players are nearly identical.
Louisville’s primary edge is experience. Four key players, Ray Spalding, Quentin Snider, Deng Adel and Anas Mahmoud, have played Kentucky in Rupp Arena before. But it's also U of L's first appearance in Rupp since NCAA sanctions were announced in its prostitutes-for-recruits scandal, and since Louisville was implicated in an FBI investigation into a college basketball pay-for-pay scheme.
“It's obviously one of the toughest environments in the country to play in, especially given the rivalry,” Padgett said. “At the end of the day, it just comes down to doing what we've got to do defensively, offensively, x-and-o-wise, and try to execute. The good news is that our young guys have had a pretty tough test on the road this year at Purdue. Now I'm not saying Purdue is harder to play in, but that was a very tough environment so at least we have that under our belt."
Spalding, a Louisville native, said he looks forward to the game.
“I look forward to every game that we play, but especially this one,” he said. “It’s a great rivalry. I had a great rivalry in high school – St. X-Trinity – and I’m glad I’m part of Louisville and Kentucky.”
He said he’s told Louisville’s players who haven’t been to Rupp: “Just love the moment. Live in it, the experience is once in a lifetime. It’s crazy to be able to be a part of it and playing in this rivalry. I just look forward to playing in it, and playing with these guys.”
The comments from the Kentucky side have been more playful. Calipari referred to the Wildcats’ rival as “Lewis-ville” in a recent press conference. Freshman point guard Quade Green, asked for what Christmas gift he’d like to give Kentucky’s fans, said, “Got to beat Louisville. Biggest rivalry this whole year. We’ve got to.”
Asked about those comments, Spalding said. “I plead the fifth. No response to that.”
The rivalry meeting is a bit different this year, but no less meaningful. Buckle up.
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