Kentucky and Louisville have flipped fortunes
The Kentucky Wildcats aren’t in the clear and aren’t guaranteed a Final Four berth this season. The Louisville Cardinals aren’t mired in mediocrity and aren’t one of the eight worst teams in the Big East, all of the sudden.
But that doesn’t mean these two intrastate rivals haven’t switched positions in the past eight months. Think about where each of these programs were on Selection Sunday. It’s remarkable, when you think about it.
Louisville: The No. 1 seed in the Midwest region after winning the Big East Tournament and claiming the right’s to be called America’s Hottest Team. The Cardinals had two future lottery picks on the roster and were about to reach the Elite Eight, were it would fall to eventual runner-up, Michigan State. Rick Pitino had not yet been attempted to be extorted and the Cardinals, at the very least, were considered to be the strongest program in the Bluegrass State for the next three years. They had made the Elite Eight three of the previous five seasons.
Kentucky: About to be completely a shambles after an 8-8 season in the SEC and losing in the quarterfinals of the NIT to Notre Dame, Billy Gillispie was fired, and Billy Donovan then turned down the prom invitation. The Wildcats, save for Patrick Sparks’ theatrics, had not recovered as a program ever since Dwyane Wade put up one of the most epic performances in Tournament history. The roster was about to go through a complete overhaul (not the one you see today, have you) and talk of players jumping ship ran rampant. There, was, of course, The Door, which opened up all the hope of what could be for the program. Gillispie would soon sue the university, which was hoping it could lure John Calipari away from Memphis.
Now, after Louisville’s second straight home loss, a 91-83 performance to Western Carolina, Pitino’s postgame comments included the following:
“We’ve just got to keep working on the fundamentals of the game, hope to improve them, and we’ve got to recruit,” Pitino said.
No offense (here comes the offense), but when a coach talks improving fundamentals, its code for “We are not a good/athletic team.” You best bet John Calipari will not be making time to talk about fundamentals with his team, and if he does, it’ll be a bunch of hot air. Because there’s zero chance Cal actually spends any precious practice time working on basic fundamental drills with the infantry he’s got.
Louisville vitals: 5-3 with the 296th toughest schedule in the nation, 107 KenPom.com ranking, a coach trying to repair his public image (Tiger makes everything seem so tame!) and a team that isn’t nearly as competent as many thought it would be. Allowing 70 points per game. Its point guard, Edgar Sosa, is turning the ball over more than three times per game.
Kentucky vitals: 10-0, 41 KenPom.com ranking and has the inarguable Player of the Year winner right now with John Wall. Oh, yeah, and the team’s second five could be the starting five for approximately 320 other D-I programs. Its somewhat-of-a-point-guard, Wall, is averaging more than four turnover per game.
Props to Kentucky Sports Radio, which jumped me and ran with this kind of post yesterday. But I will not relent! The majority of this post was written immediately following the Cardinals’ loss, and this sort of ships-passing-in-the-night storyline is a fascinating one. Does Louisville fail to make The Tournament this year? Will Kentucky lose four games before Selection Sunday? How ANGRY must Pat Forde be right now? He’s been sort of mum on this whole thing. Come on out, Pat, and tell us how ya feel.
We’re half a month away from the Jan. 2 tilt between the two schools. The best thing for UK and the worst thing for UL would be a 25-point drubbing in Lexington. In the short term, it might not even be good for the rivalry, either, but Kentucky fans wouldn’t admit to such a thing right now. Louisville sucks, they have Calipari and Wall and life is good.