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Calipari Says Cats-Cards Rivalry Doesn’t Matter At This Point

John Calipari tried to sell a whopper yesterday and we’re not talking about a burger.  In the run-up to what’s sure to be one of the most-hyped games in NCAA Tournament history, Kentucky’s coach tried to push the idea that Louisville’s position opposite UK on the bracket line doesn’t add any extra pressure:

“They want to make a big deal out of the rivalry — not at this time of the year; it doesn’t matter.  If you win or lose, you’re going to feel the same whether it’s a team you’ve played before or never seen in your life, a team that’s 12 miles from you or a team that’s a thousand miles from you.”

For the coaches and the players, maybe.  If they win, they’ll still have another game to quickly focus on and win if they want to hang a banner.  If they lose, they’re going to feel like their hearts have been pulled out their rumps.  Got it.

But try selling that “it doesn’t matter who it is” stuff to the fans of both teams.  For them, this game could only be bigger if it were for the national title and not just a spot in the title game.

In a state crazy about basketball, the craziest fans will weep with joy or sorrow (or rage) come Saturday night.  They’ll either be able to lord the victory over their neighbors in rival colors or they’ll have to live with a year’s worth — Hell, a life’s worth — of taunts and reminders.

As a boy growing up in Southeastern Kentucky, I remember Louisville winning the NCAA Tournament under Denny Crum in 1980.  A poem became part of Cardinal fans’ celebration:

“Roses are red.  Violets are blue.  The Cards are in Heaven.  But where’s the Big Blue?”

That was more than 30 years ago and I can still remember Louisville fans saying it and Kentucky fans stewing stewing over it.

We in the media overhype a heckuva lot of things.  And so do you, you Twitter- and Facebook- and messageboard-lovin’ fans.  That’s the world we live in.

But there’s no amount of overhype for Saturday’s matchup.  From Lexington to Louisville, Middlesboro to Paducah, Seventy Six to 88, and from Shoulderblade to Mud Lick to Bugtussle… folks from every city and burg in the Commonwealth will be living and dying with this weekend’s result.

Calipari can say the opponent doesn’t matter to his team, but it matters to everybody else in the state.  And you can take that to another Kentucky town — Fort Knox.

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