The buildup to the biggest basketball game in the history of the state of Kentucky is on. The Wildcats and Cardinals meet Saturday with game time set for 6:05 PM ET. Who will advance to the National Championship game?
As they have been most
of the season, Kentucky is the NCAA Basketball betting favorite. Currently the NCAA Basketball odds list the Wildcats as the -8.5 point favorites with the total at 137. The winner of
the game will play either Ohio State or Kansas in the title game on Monday
The marquee outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, site of
Saturday’s NCAA Basketball Final Four and Championship games has the standard
greeting. Welcome to ….
Take the sign down and replace the words. All you need is:
‘Kentucky vs. Louisville’. The game is that big.
Kentucky (36-2 SU, 15-21-1 ATS) is on a collision course with history,
and nothing short of winning its eighth title will suffice. Louisville (30-9
SU, 22-13-1) is the only thing standing in the Wildcats way.
This will be the second meeting of the year between the two teams.
The Cardinals lost in Lexington, 69-62, on New Year’s Eve. Louisville’s defense
held the Wildcats to just 29.8 percent (17 for 57) shooting from the field in
that game, including just 18.8 percent (3 for 16) from 3-point land. However,
Louisville did send Kentucky to the free-throw line 43 times in that game and
it also got dominated on the glass, with the Wildcats grabbing 21 more boards
Both teams are talented, but truthfully this is Kentucky’s best
team in years while Louisville has had better teams that didn’t make it this
far in the tournament. Michael-Kidd Gilchrist and Player of the Year candidate
Anthony Davis are headed to the NBA. Gilchrist has said as much while Davis
hasn’t made it official. Those two players were ready for the next level last year, and the Cards don’t have anyone on their rosters from a talent standpoint who
can match up with them.
Aside from Kentucky, Louisville played the best basketball of any
remaining team. The Cardinals have been on a major role since the Big East
tournament, when they won four games in four nights to take home the title.
Louisville has won and covered in eight consecutive games. The Cardinals’
defense has been outstanding all season, allowing just 60.8 points per game on
38 percent shooting.
Kentucky is the best team in the country. The Wildcats have won by
big margins all season, with 30 of their 36 wins coming by nine points or more.
While Kentucky’s offense gets a lot of the press, its defense is one of the
best in the country. Kentucky is holding opponents to just 60.6 points per game
on 37.5 percent shooting from the field.
The fact that Kentucky’s defense is so solid is amazing
considering that it likes to play at a fast pace. Offensively they’re 8th
in the nation in field goal shooting (48.8 percent) and 15th in
scoring (77.9 percent). Defensively they’re first in lowest field goal shooting
percentage (37.5) and 25th in scoring (60.6 points per game). Both
teams are good but Kentucky is the better balanced of the two.
As one reporter put it, Saturday is Armageddon for the basketball rich state of
Kentucky. In a state that cares more about basketball than any other
sport—there has never been a Wildcat and Cardinals clash with this much riding
on in. In a commonwealth that has no pro teams, they do have two immensely
popular celebrity coaches whose teams and programs are always being measured
against each other.
For those lucky fans in the Bluegrass State, this is the sporting
event of a lifetime. Take the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500, put them together and it still wouldn’t compare to the fervor that this
basketball game has created.
That dedication and devotion to school and team runs deep. You’ll
hear countless Rivalry Week stories but non-better than the fist fight
that broke out between dialysis patients in a clinic in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Thank goodness the roots of the rivalry have evolved. In the words of Yahoo Sports Pat Forde; “It is
no longer about race and no longer about Louisville demanding a multi-level
respect that Kentucky would not give – athletically, academically and socially.
Those issues largely have been resolved”.
“But this still is a deeply ingrained culture clash as much as a
basketball clash. It is city vs. country. It is an island republic metropolitan
area vs. a more rural demographic that stretches from the Mississippi River in
the west to the Appalachian Mountains in the east. It is the best urban-school
fan base in America vs. the best fan base in America, period”.
Sports bettors have flocked to Kentucky in droves this year but more
times than not have been left empty handed. For all of their talent, they’re
just the fourth best left when it comes to covering the thread. Louisville is
8-0 ATS in its last eight games including the Big East Tournament (4-0) and the
NCAA Tournament (4-0) while Kentucky is just 3-5 vs. the number but has covered
the last three tourney games over Baylor, Indiana and Iowa State.
In its simplest terms this game is still about player on player,
team against team and coach vs. coach. But it’s much more than that to
generations of die-hard Wildcats and Cardinals fans. It’s the game every one of
them has wanted for years and now it’s almost here.
Harvey’s Take: Pitino’s team is two wins away from repeating UConn’s rags to
riches story from a year ago. The Huskies struggled during the regular season
but got hot just in time sweeping both the Big East and NCAA Tournament.
Standing in the Cardinals way this year is Kentucky—the next national champion.
Lay the points and run with the Wildcats.