(Photo Courtesy of Sports Cliff)
Ah, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: stockings are being hung on the mantle with care, children are mailing their lists to the North Pole, and the state of Kentucky is gearing up for the Dixieland version of El Clásico. Buckle up, boys and girls, because Kentucky and Louisville meet once again for the 50th time at the Yum! Center in Louisville, and if the past 11 weeks have indicated anything, it’s that this matchup will be quite the treat. Will the high-powered Kentucky offense run Louisville off of the floor early, or will the suffocating Louisville defense throw the young Wildcats into disarray? In this classic matchup of Card vs. Cat, I’ve listed several key things to expect on Wednesday if you happen to be tuning in to watch either team for the first time this season.
This will be the case of Semi-unstoppable Force…
Even if you haven’t watched a single minute of Kentucky basketball this year, you’ve heard of Malik Monk (21.9 PPG). Hell, unless you’ve been living under a rock or have been residing in Amish country for the past two months, you’ve seen a cavalcade of highlights of the freshman phenom. If you’re any team other than Kentucky, Monk’s ability to score isn’t even the scariest part about playing the Wildcats; they’ve got two other former 5 star guards in floor general De’Aaron Fox (15.9 PPG, 7.4 APG) and the much improved Isaiah Briscoe (15.9 PPG). With Edrice “Bam” Adebayo (AKA Dwight Howard Lite) putting up a respectable average of 12.6 points per contest, Coach John Calipari seems to have created an offensive juggernaut in Lexington. If Kentucky, or Monk for that matter, comes out firing on all cylinders and completely buries Louisville in the first half, expect this night to be over early.
…meeting the Semi-immovable Object
As scary as Calipari’s high flying offense seems, it does have one fatal flaw that is to be expected of a team composed of teenagers: lack of toughness on defense and difficulty in preventing the other team from grabbing rebounds. As seen on December 3rd when they fell to UCLA, the Wildcats showed that when they fail to grab offensive rebounds the tempo slows down, which neutralizes their typically superior strength and athleticism. Louisville senior Mangok Mathiang (7.2 RPG) and junior Jaylen Johnson (8.1 RPG) lead the formidable Cardinal defense, which has held opponents to an average of 59.4 points per contest. As expected of a Rick Pitino team, this Louisville squad plays hellaciously on defense while leaving much to be desired on the offensive end. If Pitino wants to steal a victory from Calipari and improve his record to 2-8 against the Wildcats, expect the Cardinals to stay in a zone defense all night and employ the press to try and rob the advantage of the Wildcats superior speed and athleticism.
If Louisville can prevent Monk from getting hot and repeating the 47 point performance he had against North Carolina, force Adebayo into foul trouble early and capitalize on those freshman mistakes that are typical of early-season Calipari teams, then it wouldn’t be exactly shocking to see the Cardinals pull out a victory at home. That being said, the Herculean task of shutting down Kentucky’s phenomenal guard play against perhaps one of the most cohesive units in the Calipari era is better said than done. If Kentucky comes out hot, then it’s hard to see how Louisville can come back with their relatively limited scoring capacity. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, one thing is for sure: Christmas is coming early tomorrow for the state of Kentucky.