The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry is one of the most intense in college basketball. The two teams are set to meet again on Friday, when they play in the Sweet Sixteen at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Before the start of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the selection committee placed Kentucky and Louisville in the Midwest Region. However, it was no guarantee that the Bluegrass rivals would meet on the road to the Final Four. While No.4 Louisville was favored to beat both No.13 Manhattan and No.5 Saint Louis, No.8 Kentucky pulled off an upset in their last contest. The Wildcats defeated No.1 Wichita State, becoming the first team to do so this season. The Shockers had won their first 35 games of the year, setting an NCAA record.
The Cardinals remain one of the favorites to win the national title, but their road to the Sweet Sixteen was more difficult than many would have thought. The defending champs almost didn’t make it out of the field of 64. Louisville barely got by Manhattan in the second round, pulling away with a seven-point victory, after the game was tied with two minutes left in regulation.
The in-state rivals have taken two very different paths to their meeting on Friday. Both were predicted to be among the best teams in the sport, but only Louisville was able to live up to expectations. Having entered the preseason ranked No.3 overall, the Cardinals won the AAC regular season title and conference tournament. Kentucky started the year atop the polls, but ended the SEC tournament with 10 losses and out of the top 25.
Kentucky has had an up-and-down season, looking like an elite team at times, but failing to compete with non-tournament teams, on other occasions. Other than their win over Wichita State, the Wildcats looked their best when they met the Cardinals on Dec. 28. In their final game before conference play, Kentucky beat then-No.6 Louisville. Freshmen Julius Randle and Andrew Harrison scored 18 points apiece, leading head coach John Calipari’s team to a 73-66 victory.
The Wildcats have dominated the recent history between the two schools, winning five of their last six meetings. They were victorious the last time the teams met during March Madness. In 2012, Kentucky secured a 69-61 win to advance to the national championship game.
Despite Kentucky’s success against its rival, Louisville has the edge. The teams have won the last two national titles, but Kentucky has a completely different roster from 2012. Louisville, on the other hand, returns several key members of last year’s team. Four of their current top five scorers helped the Cardinals cut down the nets a year ago. Russ Smith is Louisville’s top scorer for a second straight season, and Luke Hancock is averaging 18.5 points per game, after being named the 2013 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
Kentucky entered the season with five of the top 10 recruits in the country. Their talent makes them a threat to any team, but their youth has held them back. Against the defending national champs, the Wildcats’ lack of experience could be their downfall.
Prediction: Louisville 75, Kentucky 67