The Longest, Most Comprehensive UK-U of L Preview Ever

GAME FACTS – Louisville (10-3) vs. Kentucky (14-0)

Date: Saturday, Jan. 2, 2010


Time: 3:37 p.m. ET


Site: Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY.

TV: CBS will televise the game with Verne Lundquist (play-by-play) and Clark Kellogg (analyst)


Series History: U of L trails 26-14 all-time (6-11 in Louisville, 6-13 in Lexington, 2-2 neutral) 


National Ranking: U of L is receiving votes in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll this week; Kentucky is ranked 3rd in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Polls.

Officials: Tony Greene, Doug Shows, and John Cahill


Next U of L Game: Jan. 6 at Providence, 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Next UK Game: Jan. 9 vs. Georgia, 7:00 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Matchups

Point Guards: It’s looking like Peyton Siva will be (conveniently) MIA due to the stomach flu, so the match up to watch will be John Wall v. Edgar Sosa.  Sosa is the senior leader of this year’s Louisville squad, which is a hilarious thing to hear for anyone who knows anything about him; his attitude is terrible and his play’s been erratic, to put it kindly, over the past 3+ seasons.  This year, he’s averaging 13.3 points and 4.3 assists, and will be showing his face in Rupp Arena for the first time since his 25-foot prayer was answered to end last year’s contest at Freedom Hall.

Sosa’s lone advantage over Wall is his experience—this will be his 4th UK-U of L contest.  Beyond that, he brings nothing to the table.  Sosa’s never been a dynamic athlete, which doesn’t bode well when you’re going up against the most athletic point guard in college basketball history.  He’ll have a tough time staying in front of Wall, so they’ll probably put him on Eric Bledsoe (assuming he plays), then alternate Jerry Smith and Preston Knowles on Wall—they’re not much quicker, but at least they’re bigger.  One thing Sosa does have going for him is his outside shot, which is solid (44%), and ridiculously streaky.  If he’s able to get a couple to drop early, it may be one of the few things that could keep Louisville in it.  Bledsoe and Wall aren’t yet known for their defense, and the team as a whole is pretty horrific when it comes to defending the three.

Edge: Kentucky.  Assuming Wall stays out of foul trouble and Sosa isn’t shooting out of his mind, this one won’t even be close.

Wings: Eric Bledsoe, Darnell Dodson, and Darius Miller will be the three guys who’ll see the most action for Kentucky tomorrow, with Ramon Harris, DeAndre Liggins, and possibly Jon Hood giving them relief as  needed.  Louisville’s actually kind of deep at the wing spot, with 6 guys averaging at least 9 minutes per game thus far.  Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, and Reginald Delk are the main three, with Kyle Kuric, Rakeem Buckles, Mike Marra also seeing solid minutes.

Knowles and Smith are both averaging just over 8.5 per game and shooting just under 40% from the field.  The 3-point specialist for the Cards at this position is Delk, who will come into the game shooting just under 48% from behind the arc.  Freshman Mike Marra was supposed to be the guy who’d provide the scoring from long distance this season, but so far his stroke’s looked about as good as that ridiculous sleeve of tattoos he sports, and is currently shooting a brutal 25%.

As for Kentucky, Dodson’s been the main 3-point threat for the Cats all year (43%), and Miller’s stroke has steadily improved to a point I think we’re all surprised to see it at (44%).  Bledsoe’s shooting has been a pleasant surprise (45% from the floor, 50% from deep), but his ankle’s been an issue and may limit his minutes.  Look for Louisville to get into that zone defense Pitino’s come to love so much, since the Cards can’t match up with UK man-to-man. Kentucky’s seen plenty of zone this season (b/c no one can match up with them man-to-man), so that shouldn’t bother them a bit.  As mentioned, I expect Wall and Cousins to attract most of the attention, so look for Dodson and Miller to get plenty of open looks

The big question mark for UK here is Eric Bledsoe.  He didn’t play at all against Hartford, taking some time off to nurse the aforementioned ankle injury he suffered some time ago.  Bledsoe’s presence will be less important for UK in the half court offense—Kentucky has plenty of options there—but could be crucial against the infamous Pitino press.  He’s essentially an extra point guard out there when he and Wall are both on the floor, and could be the potential difference maker as a second ball handler against the trap.

Edge: Kentucky—but not by a lot.  I’d feel much better about this one if Bledsoe were 100%.

Bigs: Lousville’s led by Samardo Samuels down low, who’s having a solid year, averaging 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds/game while shooting 54% from the floor.  Jared Swopshire isn’t letting his presence go to waste either—he contributes 8 and 5.7, respectably.  Louisville’s still waiting for Terrence Jennings to turn into the player they thought he was when they signed him, but so far he’s not shown any tremendously encouraging signs.  He’s averaging 6.4 points and just under 4 rebounds/night, and will be playing with a renewed sense of discipline, I’m sure, after a DNP against Lafayette for violating team rules.

As for Kentucky, Patrick Patterson leads the trio of himself, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton, the latter two being the freshman phenoms not named John Wall who’ve been hyper valuable to the Cats this season.  Patterson’s been his usual, stellar self, averaging 16.6 points and 8.6 boards; Cousins scores at a clip of 15.2/game and pulls down 9/night; and Orton’s numbers (4 points, 3.5 rebounds) don’t do justice to his play this year—he’s been solid off the bench and gotten better every game.

After those three, Perry Stevenson chips in with about 9 minutes, 1 point, and 1.7 boards/night.  Josh Harrellson also makes the occasional appearance, and gives the Cats—if nothing else—an extra threat from deep, shooting 66% (!) from three this season.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Cards are able to consistently match up with Kentucky in the post.  Kentucky’s guys are bigger, more adept offensively, and there’s just more of them.  Louisville has one guy (Samuels) who’d get minutes if he played for Kentucky.  I’ll talk more about this later, but I don’t expect Cousins to have a huge night, yet there’s still no way Louisville contains UK’s size inside—there’s simply too much of it.

Advantage: Kentucky—by a lot.

Game Plans

Louisville: The world now knows that I hate Rick Pitino more than Rick himself hates the man-made prison that is marital fidelity, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any respect for him as a coach.  He’s the X Factor in all of this; when you consider all the stuff he’s been through and heard over the past nine months—between his own problems and the Kentucky stuff—I guarantee he wants to beat Calipari more than Calipari wants to beat him.  Slick Rick’s always been a phenomenal game planner, and I expect to see yet another example of his patented We’re Going to Take Away Your Best Player and Take Our Chances with Everyone Else- approach he’s shown such a propensity for.  The obvious problem with that is, well, Kentucky has at least three outstanding players (Wall, Patterson, Cousins) and three more legitimate scoring threats (Bledsoe, Dodson, Miller)—it’s a pick your poison-type scenario.  So, what’s Pitino to do?

For starters, I expect him to double the holy hell out of Cousins.  Cousins is immature and excitable, and I guarantee Pitino will do all he can to exploit this; foul trouble, along with maddening frustration will be the goal, which should nullify Cousins’ sizeable impact, since he will then be seated on the bench.

The issue of defending Wall is one that’s a bit tricker.  Aside from the traps that come with the full-court press, I honestly don’t expect Pitino to run multiple defenders at him; instead, expect a heavy dose of Preston Knowles—Louisville’s best perimeter defender—and a defense that will sag in an effort to make Wall beat them from the outside.  Pitino’s always been great about this—forcing players beat him with their weaknesses; if Wall goes 5-9 from behind the 3-point line, Pitino can live with that.  Wall’s as talented a PG as Pitino’s ever coached against, but I’ll be shocked if Louisville lets him make his living in the paint.  Expect U of L to try and force some perimeter shots from Wall early on, then, once the game tempo inevitably picks up, we’ll see more of the end-to-end Wall we’ve grown accustomed to.

Then, of course, there’s Patrick Patterson.  Even if Pitino is able to get Cousins in foul trouble, and even if the Cards can somehow slow down the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, how do they plan to stop Patterson?  Answer: They don’t.  Patterson’s the one guy Louisville’s got absolutely no answer for.  He’s too smart to get into foul trouble, too emotional to come out flat, and too good to deliver anything less than 15 and 8.  To top it off, Pitino’s plan against Patterson the last couple of years was to force him out of the paint and make him hit shots from the outside.  Unfortunately for Rick, Patterson’s extended his range this season, draining the three at an absolutely insane rate of 45% (9-20 on the season).  Samuels and Jennings won’t be able to keep Patterson off the boards, and Louisville doesn’t have a player on their roster that can guard him one-on-one.  As I mentioned earlier, I expect them run an intense double team at Cousins’ to start the game, and there are only so many players allowed on the floor at one time.  Look for Patterson to have a big game.

Kentucky: As for Calipari, he claims his preparation for each game is exactly the same, regardless of the opponent.  Depending on how you look at it, his stance is either genius or moronic—If we (Kentucky) do what we’re capable of, we don’t need to worry about them (the opponent); we’ll let them worry about us. This is one of those philosophies that sounds fantastic until a team comes in and beats your brains out by, say, shooting the hell out of the three (which Kentucky doesn’t defend worth a shit), or getting your star point guard in foul trouble (which, fortunately, hasn’t happened much) and exploiting your drastic drop off in point guard play when he goes to the bench.  Hopefully that won’t happen tomorrow, but I’m just saying…the game plan to beat Kentucky is obvious—get Wall out of the game, and they’re a completely different team—it’s just that so far no one’s been able to do it.

The North Carolina game showed what a different team we are out there without him.  He makes it easy to take for granted all the subtle things he does because he’s doing so many obvious, jump-out-at-you things that get more attention.  Sure he can dunk the ball behind his head and dribble through triple teams, but he also does a fantastic job of getting everyone involved, running the offense, drawing multiple defenders, pushing the tempo as needed, putting just about every pass on the money…all those things make his teammates exponentially better.  Eric Bledsoe, or, gasp, DeAndre Liggins or Darius Miller are all respectable replacements, but they’re not in the same universe as Wall—nobody is.

With that said, Calipari’s philosophy is right—at least in this case.  If Kentucky comes out and plays their game, Louisville can’t keep up.  The Cardinals don’t have the offensive firepower needed to score with UK, or the wherewithal defensively to slow Kentucky down; if the Cats plays even their B – game tomorrow, it’ll be a long day for Pitino and The Ville.

Prediction

Outcome: UK gets the W, but it’s going to be closer than a lot of people are saying.  Everyone is using the We’re Better Than Them at Every Position and We’re at Home-logic, but you don’t have to go back too far (last year, to be precise) to find a game where Louisville was better than us at almost every position while playing at home and still barely squeaked one out.  Like I said, Pitino’s going to be ready—don’t doubt that for a second.  He wants this one, and even though I think he’s lost something off his fastball over the past few years, he’s still capable of bringing the heat on choice occasions.  Plus, this is a rivalry game; teams that have no business whatsoever of playing with teams light-years better than them find a way to do it when regional pride’s suddenly on the line.  The players play harder, the coaches coach harder, and the fans curse louder—tomorrow won’t be any different.

Final Score: UK – 87 – U of L – 72

Spread: Last I heard, the spread for this one had UK favored by 13.  I’m predicting UK to cover, but not by much.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fairly close score at halftime—like, UK by less than five—but look for the plethora of offensive options to give UK a little more separation in the final twenty minutes.

Go Cats!

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