BOZICH | No Pitino should benefit Louisville at Kentucky
There will be road environments where Louisville will miss Rick Pitino this season but Friday's game with Kentucky in Rupp Arena should not be one of them.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jeff Sagarin’s college basketball computer power formula projects Kentucky will defeat Louisville by 3.6 points Friday afternoon in Rupp Arena.
Ken Pomeroy’s numbers show a wider gap between the teams, tilting toward the Wildcats by five points.
I’m here to project a Louisville victory.
Of course, I’m also here to project a Kentucky victory.
But I’ll begin with Three Reasons the Cardinals will win the game – then contradict myself later on Thursday with Three Reasons the Wildcats will deliver.
1. No Rick Pitino
I’ve heard the whispers that a primary reason Louisville has occasionally struggled this season is the absence of the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame coach.
His unrelenting chirping and stomping. His furious energy. The fear of failure Pitino could inspire. His considerable organizational and motivational skills.
Any team would miss a Hall of Fame coach. Look at what’s happened to Connecticut without Jim Calhoun, Georgetown without John Thompson or Indiana without Bob Knight.
But there was always a disconnect: The Pitino energy and drama rarely translated to poised and persistent play when he worked from the visiting bench in Rupp Arena.
John Calipari and Kentucky fans took over so much space in Pitino’s psyche that he should have charged them rent. He became so obsessed with the environment and serenades from Kentucky fans that Pitino did silly things.
Enter the court from a spot where people were not looking for him. Salute them with a single finger on his way off the floor. Wave off talking to the media after the game.
It’s difficult to imagine that Pitino’s pre-occupation with all things Kentucky translated to an overflow of confidence in the U of L locker room.
The results show that Pitino went 0-for-4 in Rupp against Calipari teams. The average margin of defeat in those four games was more than a half-dozen points.
Considering all the noise percolating around the Louisville program this season the response to Pitino this year would have made Don Rickles blush. It won’t be lovely for David Padgett and his players but Pitino’s presence would have fed the beast.
The Cardinals have already been exposed to one daunting road environment at Purdue. They played well. Without the effect of Pitino’s trickle-down anxiety, I look for Louisville to exhale and compete like crazy.
2. Not a Vintage Kentucky Team
Hold all tickets until March but the early returns suggest this is not a vintage Calipari team.
Only one projected Top 10 pick for the 2018 NBA Draft. Two losses in the only three games the Wildcats have played against Top 60 competition. Nobody who reminds you of John Wall, Brandon Knight, Tyler Ulis or De’Aaron Fox at point guard.
And, for the first time since 2013, the Wildcats do not rank in the Top 20 in either offensive or defensive efficiency in Ken Pomeroy’s metrics.
They’re close – 25th in offense and 21st in defense.
But for Kentucky it’s never been a situation of being close under Calipari. His teams have always overflowed with so many ready-made stars that they ranked in the top 20 in either offensive or defensive efficiency (or both).
Not this season.
3. Turnover Mania
Looking for a spot where the Wildcats must improve?
You don’t need to pull out your magnifying class. It’s taking care of the basketball.
The Wildcats rank 253rd in the nation in percentage of possessions that have resulted in turnovers. At 20.6 percent, they’re down there with Presbyterian and Bethune Cookman.
That’s easily the worst of the nine-season Calipari Era in Lexington.
It’s also a tough flaw to hide against Louisville because the Cardinals have forced their first dozen opponents to throw the ball away on 20.3 percent of their possessions. The Cards are not the defensive terrors they were with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, but the defense remains solid.
Taking care of the basketball will matter Friday.
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