Final Four Preview: When Kentucky and Louisville Play, Nobody Wins
As a basketball fan, NCAA-basher and frequent proponent of common sense, I can’t root for John Calipari and Kentucky. Between John Calipari’s well-documented NCAA violations, annoying and definitely related ability to recruit five of the top 10 recruits in the country every year (don’t do it, Nerlens) and the entitlement of the Wildcat fan base I can’t help rooting for every team they play. Yet Rick Pitino inspires a level of sports hate in my heart that is generally reserved for Eric Devendorf, Bucky bleeping Dent, Alex Rodriguez and Kobe Bryant. You see, I’m from Boston. And what Pitino did to my beloved Celtics is unforgivable. On a personal level, I’ll be stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place on Saturday when the Cards and Wildcats clash since a big chasm opening up under the stadium is both implausible and seems wildly unfair the spectators. Then again, I’m not sure I dislike either team as much as the fanbases hate each other. When dialysis patients are fighting each other, you know something is up. But the previews must go on, so here I am.
Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis are probably the best three players in this game— and that’s before we get to the likes of Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Terrence Jones. Davis injured his knee in Kentucky’s Elite Eight steamrolling of Baylor but sounds to be more than healthy enough to send a Peyton Siva shot (or eight) into the fifth row. They’ve won every tournament game by at least 12 points, and absolutely, hilariously dominated Baylor in the first half of their last game before getting bored with being this damn good at basketball. The old crunch-time and freethrow shooting problems might rear their ugly heads again… but those are only relevant if the game is, you know, close down the stretch.
I know most of you probably don’t hold Rick Pitino in the same extraordinarily low regard as I do, so I’ll refrain from taking too many more shots at him. The Cards are led by junior point guard Peyton Siva, who averages over 9 points and 5.6 assists per game, all while dealing with the terrible burden of being one of the guys basketball announcers love to constantly wax poetic about. That impressive assist number is somewhat offset by the 3.5 turnovers Siva averages per game— at least one of which will be of the major facepalm variety for Cardinals fans— and an inability to reliably hit from behind the arc (24%). Kyle Kuric is the team’s leading scorer at 13.1 points per game, although he has struggled with his outside shot as well (33%) just a year after converting nearly 45% of his threes and hasn’t scored particularly consistently since pouring in 25 points in an overtime win over noted Big East powerhouse DePaul on February 18.
As I hinted at above, I’m not sure I could live with predicting a Louisville win ever, let alone in the Final Four. Luckily for me, it hardly strains credulity to suggest that the Wildcats will win this one, especially after their 69-62 win over the Cards earlier this year. Rivalry games are always tough to predict, so I think Louisville has a better chance than most teams at derailing Kentucky’s remarkably predictable and somewhat boring march to the NCAA title than most four seeds would, but the Wildcats will just be too good in the end.
Pick: Kentucky 72, Louisville 59
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start convincing myself that either Kansas or Ohio State has a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Kentucky in the title game. Maybe I’ll just have to content myself that any Wildcats’ title will almost certainly be vacated in five years once news comes out about Calipari installing a mint under Rupp Arena to pay his players. And their SAT “tutors.”
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated