Kentucky and Louisville Both Find Themselves in Need of a Signature Win
Well, whaddya know? We have arrived at the final game of the non-conference portion of the college basketball season. And what a finale. Kentucky vs. Louisville. It's really perfect that this is the last game for these teams heading into conference play. But there's something a bit odd about it, too.
Both teams need to win or neither will have a quality non-conference victory. To be fair, Providence and Boise State--both beaten by UK--are bigger NAMES than anyone Louisville has vanquished so far this season. But neither is shaping up to be an NCAA Tournament team, either.
The Cats and the Cards find themselves in very similar situations. Their only losses have come to the only ranked opponents on their schedules, to this point. Kentucky has single-digit losses--in fact, all are by five or fewer points--to #5 Michigan State and #11 Baylor at neutral sites and at 19th-ranked (and wildly erratic) North Carolina. Those are the same Tar Heels that handed Louisville its only defeat of the season--a 9-point setback at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
So something's gotta give. One of these teams will enter conference play next week without a signature win on its docket. (Although the Ville's win over Western Kentucky and that Kentucky win over Boise State might eventually qualify.) That's not something that was foreseen in the pre-season when both clubs were ranked in the top three.
The game is at Rupp Arena. Louisville hasn't won there since John Calipari came to town. But Kentucky hasn't been able to beat its best opponents so far this season.
So, again, something's gotta give. I've found myself asking, "What's more likely to happen?" A loaded Louisville team with nearly everyone back from a national title-winning outfit leaves the non-conference season without a good win? A 6th-ranked Louisville team that lost to Carolina but has beaten everyone else by an average of 29 points?
Or will Kentucky have to rely on another semi-weak Southeastern Conference to collect decent enough wins to make it back to the NCAA Tournament?
When it comes to rivalries, all bets are off. For example, last season, the Kentucky team that eventually missed the Big Dance (even though I think they would've sneaked in if Nerlens Noel had remained healthy) only lost by three at Louisville. After the way last season ended, I wouldn't have looked back and thought that possible.
So who knows? I just know it's an awesome rivalry--one that college basketball desperately needs. And I'm crossing my fingers for a great game. As a fan of the sport, that's all I ever want.