The Final Four field is set: Kentucky Wildcats, Louisville Cardinals, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Kansas Jayhawks. One #1 seed, two #2 seeds, and a #4 seed. Had Kendall Marshall not gotten hurt, I think North Carolina replaces Kansas, but not even that would be the top story heading into this weekend.
The talk of the nation is one game and one game only: Kentucky v. Louisville.
This might be the biggest NCAA tournament game of all time. Actually, like the title says, I am going to go “out on a limb” and say that it will be the biggest tournament game of all time. If you don’t know why, I will give you a few reasons.
1. Lexington and Louisville are in the same state (duh).
2. Rick Pitino coached at Kentucky.
3. Louisville fans hate (yes, hate) John Calipari
4. This is one of the most intense rivalries in the history of college basketball.
5. This is for a chance to go to the national championship.
6. The cities hate each other.
I am sure there are many more reasons why this is more than just a rivalry and why this is bigger than just a game. This game is for bragging rights. It’s for state bragging rights and pride. The deciding factor will be the coaching matchup. That’s what this game will come down to.
Calipari is one of the most unique coaches college basketball has ever seen. He can recruit the best high-school players in the country, but so can a lot of coaches. What separates Calipari from the rest is that he can make these highly touted players play defense and play defense well. Since Calipari revived the Kentucky program, he has recruited players like DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Eric Bledsoe, and Brandon Knight. All of these players are great college players and most of them are now having success in the NBA. It’s a system in which Calipari doesn’t restrict his players to play his system. He is able to adapt his system to fit the style of the players he recruits. Did I mention that his record at Kentucky is 100-14 in three years? Uh, that’s decent.
On the other side, you have Rick Pitino, a defensive master-mind that can stymie and force opponents to play out of their comfort zone. Games are won in the second half. The reason I say that is because Louisville was down 8 at halftime to the Florida Gators. In the first half, the Gators shot 66% from the field and 82.7% from 3-pt land (8-11). Louisville was coming off a great game against Michigan State in which they gave up 44 points the entire game. They gave up 41 points to the Gators in the first half. In the second half, Pitino took control, actually his players did but you know what I mean. Louisville outscored Florida 39-27 in the second half, holding them to 37% shooting, including 0-9 from 3-pt land.
The first half is like a trial run, feeling the opponent out, knowing what the team can or can’t do, and knowing what the opposing team is doing and then figuring out how to stop them. Pitino doesn’t have All-Americans. Sure, Wayne Blackshear was a highly touted recruit, but he was hurt most of this season. Way back when Louisville was in Conference USA, Pitino’s best players were Reece Gaines, Francisco Garcia, and Taquan Dean. Recently he has had players like Earl Clark, Terrence Williams, and Edgar Sosa.
But that doesn’t compare to the talent that Kentucky rolls in, year in and year out.
Kentucky wins pretty with its dominance of talent, defensive pressure, and reputation and Louisville wins ugly with their full-court pressure, half-time adjustments, and piecing it together when it matters most.
Some people are calling this “Armageddon”. I don’t know if I would go that far, I would say this is going to be a very intense, entertaining, gut-wrenching, heart-filled performance between two teams that have no remorse for one another.
I just want to know one thing: Will Pitino be wearing his famous white suit?
I hope so.