“Isn’t it great that two teams from the same state are playing each other in a Final Four for the first time since 1961? It’s so great for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
I live in Louisville and the water cooler and elevator speeches this morning about the statement written above, temporarily replacing the early warm weather conversations, is garbage. Kentucky and Louisville don’t like each other, they hate each other. I went to the University of Alabama and nothing oozes more tree poison than the Alabama-Auburn rivalry – nothing comes close – but this one game tops it and is unlike anything we’ve seen in any sport in a very, very long time.
In nearly every “historical” game played the pressure falls on the better team, but as a lifelong UK fan I strangely feel there isn’t any added pressure on UK because Louisville is just another team in the line of fire. The Louisville fan base is simply happy to be in this in this situation because it will go down as an unforgettable season, regardless of the outcome, so there’s no pressure. If the Cardinals happen to beat Kentucky and lose the national title game, Louisville fans will take more pride in denying Kentucky the right to play in the title game than actually losing in the title game.
If there is any pressure for UK it’s not on the basketball court. To me the only pressure falls onto the shoulders of Coach Cal by proving he’s a great X and O guy, that nobody wants to give him credit for, and that he can win with his one and done philosophy. From a UK fan perspective there is no pressure because this UK team is one of the best basketball teams that has ever played.
I wrote on the very site a few months ago, before the season played out, that Alabama would go down as potentially the greatest college football teams to every play if they could beat LSU in the Super Dome. Bama did so in a dominating fashion and, even without winning the “SEC” football tournament, with some time and perspective I believe last year’s team will be viewed as just that.
In late February I compared this UK team to the 1996 UK team – many whom consider one of the greatest teams ever – and wrote the 1996 team was better. But if this team returns to Lexington with national title #8 for it will be on the short list as one of the greatest college basketball teams ever
Has winning a game just to land a spot in the national title game ever been so anti-climatic? (You mean Ohio State and Kansas are in the Final Four, too?)
The outcome of this game will permanently alter the opinion of two coaching giants inside the Big Blue Nation forever. So, yes, there is pressure but if falls directly on the coaches and none of the players.
A Wildcat win recasts Rick Pitino as a mere footnote in the robust and biblical book of UK basketball, something that will eat at his ego for the rest of his coaching and personal life. He did tremendous job at UK and returned it from the dead, but for the greatest coaching job a HOF coach did to be a footnote at arguably the best collegiate program has to be painful. While his personal image has been destroyed in the past 24 months, an unforgettable loss to a former “protégé” at the empire he used to rule would be sting just as devastating.
But the real pressure is on Cal to win the next two games and bring back title #8 to Lexington for a variety of reasons:
1) A national title moves his coaching resume past Pitino’s at UK after only his third year
2) Cal gets the respect he deserves as a tremendous bench coach
3) Softens the “guilty without evidence” charges at UMass and Memphis
4) Moves up a few rungs on the ladder of greatest college coaches
5) Coached potentially the greatest team in college basketball history
6) Proof his one and done philosophy works and can no longer be questioned
UK is by far and away the best team in the country and will find itself on the short list of greatest college basketball teams ever if it wins two more games. Reminding me of the great Alabama football team from last year, this UK team is like group of mercenaries strictly following orders from a commander and then delivering a scorched earth approach to everything. A well-rounded unit doing its job with little flash or flamboyance, the emotionless faces on the UK players can’t hide their addiction to winning or inability to show no mercy. At the end of the day they simply want it more than any other team.
So… Assuming this team wins its next two games it moves ahead of the ’96 team and goes down as the greatest team UK ever let’s look at how this team ranks nationally in key categories:
- W-L Percentage & Scoring Margin: #1
- Scoring Offense (#20) & OFG percentage (#10)
- Scoring Defense (#25) & DFG percentage (#1)
- Rebounding Margin: #8
- Blocked Shots: #1
- Assist to Turnover Ratio: #35
Here are the players doing it, none averaging more than 10 shots per game:
Anthony Davis: 14.3
Doron Lamb 13.6
Terrence Jones: 12.6
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: 12
Marquis Teague: 10
Darius Miller: 10
Returning to the main point of this article, never has a rivalry game had so much at stake for two coaches when it comes to perception. And as UK fan I’m giddy because in a few days Pitino becomes a UK footnote and I can look down on the Louisville program as the little brother forever. Louisville has absolutely no chance in this game and loses 73-63.
UK goes on to win the title and Cal becomes what everyone outside of Lexington doesn’t want him to be: The best coach in college basketball right now.
Tyler B. works as a communications specialist for a Louisville, Kentucky company. A lifetime SEC fan – long before it became “acceptable” to cheer for every team in the conference – he plans on writing several books about college football that have a fantastic chance of never being written.
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