Most media members expect close win over Louisville
By LARRY VAUGHT
No one should have a better feel about what might happen in Saturday’s Kentucky-Louisville basketball matchup than Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, the son of former UK assistant coach Ralph Willard.
Louisville won at Seton Hall a week before UK lost in overtime to Seton Hall in Madison Square Garden.
“I think Kentucky is much more physical, has a much more physical presence inside,” Kevin Willard said. “I think Louisville shoots the basketball much better.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari paid attention quickly to what first-year Louisville coach Chris Mack was doing with the Cardinals.
“They’re playing extremely hard. Like these dudes are fighting to win games. Their coach is holding them accountable. He doesn’t care about names. That is going to be a really hard game for us to win,” Calipari said several weeks ago on his weekly radio show.
Will Kentucky win? That was the overwhelming assumption when the season started. Now it is not as clear cut, so I asked several media members who cover UK basketball who they think wins Saturday and how their perception of the matchup has changed since the season started.
“I’ll take the Wildcats based on their bigs. I think Reid Travis and PJ Washington will present some serious matchup issues for the Cardinals. UofL did beat a Michigan State team with a strong inside game but missed free throws hurt the Spartans and that’s been a strength for Kentucky thus far,” Tom Leach, play-by-play voice of the UK Radio Network, said.
Kentucky Sports Radio’s Tyler Thompson and Ryan Lemond also both think Kentucky will win.
“However, it will be close, particularly if the Cats don’t improve their perimeter defense. Louisville is averaging just under nine 3’s per game and Kentucky’s 3-point defense is one of the worst in the country,” Thompson said. “Kentucky can control the inside with PJ Washington and Reid Travis and burn the Cards in transition with Keldon Johnson. It’s just a matter of keeping Louisville from seizing momentum with 3’s. This will be Kentucky’s first true road game, after all.”
Lemond thinks after last year’s blowout win by the Cats that this game will be nail-biter.
“This year the game comes down to the final minute with UofL having a chance to win it at the buzzer but UK ironically makes a big defensive play to win it,” Lemond said.
Larry Glover, host of the daily Larry Glover Live on WVLK-AM, was the only media member to predict a Louisville win.
“At this point, UofL appears to be far better than we anticipated and Kentucky is just the opposite. With the game at the Yum Center, I think the Cards pick off the Cats 77-65,” Glover said. “Honestly, I pretty surprised by how underwhelming this Kentucky team has been. Kentucky’s play this summer gave every indication that they could be a dominant team. Yet they find themselves in a dangerous position of seeing a high NCAA seed slip away in December.”
Cats Illustrated managing editor Jeff Drummond is going with UK in a close win because he feels the Cats are more talented and will have the best two players in the game. He’s also basing his pick on Calipari having more practice time recently with his team.
“I look for them to come out of ‘Camp Cal’ an improved basketball team, and with the departure of Quade Green, possibly one with a more streamlined rotation where the talented freshmen can get into a better rhythm,” Drummond said. “I think most people on both sides of the rivalry assumed this was a big win for UK going into the season.
“Chris Mack has done a really nice job early with the Cardinals, and the Yum Center will be absolutely electric with UofL fans sensing a vulnerable UK team coming into their house. How the Cats’ freshmen respond to their first really hostile environment may determine the game.”
Curtis Burch of Big Blue Insider is picking Kentucky but admits the game has gone from where it would have been a huge upset for Louisville to win to a toss up.
“Kentucky’s weakness is defending the 3-point line and that is somewhere Louisville excels,” he said.
Kentucky Today’s Keith Taylor believes UK players will have a “chip on their shoulder” at the Yum Center that will pay dividends.
“Kentucky will have more to gain than the Cardinals and will pull it out, although the game will be a tight squeeze. Kentucky will finally see a breakthrough away from home. Kentucky wins 74-68,” Taylor predicted.
Taylor is the only media member who doesn’t have a different perspective on the game now than he did three months ago.
“Aside from its showing against Duke in the Champions Classic, Kentucky has shown an ability to overcome adversity and those experiences will help against the Cardinals,” Taylor said. “The Wildcats have more talent, but that isn’t what will be the difference maker this time around. It will be the team’s ability to win a close game.”
Leach is with those who believe this is a much tougher game for Kentucky than he envisioned several months ago. However, he says that’s more a compliment to what Mack has done with the Cardinals than anything UK has not done, especially when it comes to Louisville’s 3-point shooting.
“Kentucky doesn’t have to rain down 3’s on the opponent but the Cats must minimize the gap between how many they make and how many they give up. If they do a good job of that against Louisville, I like their chances,” Leach said.
Thompson said her feelings about the game have “dramatically” changed in the last few months — just like the feelings of most fans have.
“Not only is Kentucky not meeting the expectations fans had after the Bahamas trip, Louisville has exceeded theirs. Mack has Louisville playing hungry, sound basketball. The Cards’ resume includes wins over then No. 9 Michigan State and Seton Hall — a team that beat Kentucky a week later — and a close loss at Indiana,” Thompson said.
“Mack and Louisville’s players will be anxious to further prove themselves against their rival; whether or not Kentucky matches that intensity will decide the game.”
Lemond, as always, is blunt and honest about his feelings.
“UK isn’t as good as I thought they would be, and Louisville is much better than I thought they would be. Louisville can shoot it, and UK has trouble guarding the outside shot. That should make for an interesting game,” he said.