#6 Kentucky Wildcats (10-1) vs. #10 Louisville Cardinals (10-1)
December 21, 2016 @7 PM EST
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Maybe the best rivalry in college sports; The Bluegrass Rivalry between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals never disappoints! Every year these elite programs battle right before conference play for bragging rights as the best basketball program in the state of Kentucky! With an “Iron Bowl” type feel to it, The Bluegrass Rivalry is an electrifying and crazy game every year. Since the Calipari Era started in Lexington, Kentucky is 8-1 in this matchup and leads the all-time series 34-15. Over the past 9 matchups, at least one of these historic programs was listed in the AP Top 25 and in 6 of the past 9 matchups, both teams were in the AP Top 25. There is no doubt that this year’s rivalry game will be just as exciting and breathtaking as past years. Kentucky, with one of the nation’s best offenses led by their two freshmen guards, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox will pay a visit to the KFC Yum! Center to take on Louisville, one of the nation’s best defenses led by the veterans Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Johnson. Nothing beats watching two of the biggest rivals in sports go head-to-head, so let’s take a look at the keys for each team and what to watch for in this year’s Bluegrass Rivalry!
What Is The Matchup to Watch?
Rick Pitino is notorious for his coaching abilities on the defensive end of the floor. Louisville currently ranks first in defensive efficiency in the NCAA and ranks tenth in top scoring defense. Louisville’s ability to force turnovers and run in transition make them one of the most dangerous teams in college basketball because they can score seven plus points in less than 30 seconds! Louisville’s size is also problematic for lots of teams. Deng Adel, Ray Spalding, Jaylen Johnson, Anas Mahmoud, and Mangok Mathiang all stand taller than 6’7” and have helped the Cardinals be one of the top shot blocking teams in the country averaging 7.3 blocks per game. I hope by now you understand that Louisville’s defense is very good, so how do you score and win against this team? Well, when you have some of the best scoring freshmen in the country, it makes John Calipari’s job a whole lot easier. Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox have been without a doubt the best guard combo in the country averaging above 40 points a game combined and both shooting over 44% from the field. Malik Monk has been on a tear lately, averaging 27.3 PPG, and shooting over 40% from the 3-point line. There is no stopping Malik Monk, you can only try to slow him down. The key matchup to watch in this game will be Edrice “Bam” Adebayo versus Louisville’s frontcourt. Adebayo must attack the the backboard for offensive and defensive rebounds and get the Cats going in transition. If Kentucky can penetrate Louisville’s defensive with Adebayo down low, Kentucky may be able to escape the Yum! Center for their 5th straight win over the Cards. Despite all the talent at the guard position for both programs, the big men will determine the winner of this game.
X-Factor for the Wildcats: Dominate the 3-point and Free Throw Line
Besides Malik Monk, Kentucky has struggled from the 3-point line, averaging 34% as a team. Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox have shot 27.8% and 13% from 3-point range respectively, and usually look for Monk to take the threes. Louisville has always been a solid 3-point shooting team and if Kentucky has trouble getting to the rim against a lengthy Cardinals team, they won’t be able to rely just on Malik Monk. From the “charity-stripe,” more famously know as the free-throw line, Kentucky shoots about 68.6% as a team, ranking 199 in the NCAA. Louisville is averaging 18.8 personal fouls per game this season, which means the Wildcats could find themselves shooting free-throws late in the game. This game could very well come down to one team shooting free-throws late in the game to pull out a victory, so if Kentucky is able to hit their free-throws and not rely on Malik Monk as much from deep, they should be able to defeat the Cardinals in Louisville.
X-Factor for the Cardinals: Take Advantage of the Wildcats Youth
Remember that time at the park when you were younger and you tried to drive to the rim, but got blocked by the kid who was 3 years older than you? I bet you stayed away from him the rest of the game! This veteran Louisville squad will look to assert their authority early on in this game to the “baby” Cats/Kentucky freshmen. Like some of the past Kentucky teams over the years, this Louisville Cardinals basketball team contains lots of size on both the perimeter and inside the paint. Louisville will have to send an early message to the Wildcats that they are not afraid of their freshman All-Americans. In a press conference, Rick Pitino stated, “They have great talent. That doesn’t mean you can’t beat them, but you just have to know what you are going up against. It is going to be a great basketball game.” If Louisville is able to establish their presence on all ends of the floor early and play the game to their tempo, they will be able to pull off a victory in this year’s Bluegrass Rivalry. Pace and Pride will be the two words that will dictate this game. If the Cardinals can control both of these, then they will be able to improve to 11-1.
Final Thoughts and Predictions
If you are a fan of basketball or just sports rivalries in general, you are not going to want to miss this game! A rivalry that has seen ejections, fights, buzzer beaters, and unbelievable performances is about to once again live up to its hype. This is Kentucky vs. Louisville… there is no time for breaks. This is the biggest game of the season for both programs and a chance for future stars to rise. Being a student at The University of Louisville and a writer for Louisville basketball, I will do my best to try and be as unbiased as I can be.
I believe Malik Monk will continue his scoring festival and put up 25+ points in this game, most being from the 3-point line. I also expect Louisville to block at least 6 shots and outrebound the Wildcats. I think Louisville will hold the Wildcats under 80 points, something the Wildcats have done once this year, and believe Jaylen Johnson and Anas Mahmoud will have a breakout game for Louisville. This game will be wire-to-wire in the final two minutes, but I strongly believe the Louisville Cardinals will be able to pull off its first victory over Kentucky since 2012 with a slim victory of 77-73. Regardless of the outcome of the game, as a college basketball fan, I will have enjoyed a fantastic game by two historic, championship caliber, and rival programs. This is the Bluegrass Rivalry!
The Ville ‘20
(Photo from wbkr.com)