Location: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Kentucky)
HOW KENTUCKY WINS THIS GAME:
– Utilize the talent on the perimeter: Let’s face it: Louisville just can’t matchup with UK’s talented perimeter group. Who’s checking De’Aaron Fox tonight? Can you hide Quentin Snider on Isaiah Briscoe? And if so, can Deng Adel contain either Monk or Fox? There are no ideal matchups for the Cardinals, but the Wildcats need to exploit these advantages to win this game.
– Crash the glass: The Wildcats are 34th in the country in rebounding, but are a putrid 224th in opponent’s rebounding. The Cardinals come in 22nd in the country in rebounding and are 10th in offensive rebounding compared to UK’s 122nd ranking in defensive rebounding. UK has to keep Louisville off the offensive glass. The Cardinals are prone to long scoring droughts and offensive rebounding will help bail them out. They need to be focused and energetic with their rebounding.
– Find a way to break the Louisville defense: Louisville has a great defense (3rd in Defensive Rating in the country). They are 5th in opponent’s field goal percentage and 21st in opponent’s three-point field goal percentage. The Cardinals also have four legitimate big men and are 3rd in the nation in blocks. They’re going to protect the rim. UK is 217th in the country in three-point percentage, but are 149th in attempts and 5th in the country in two-point field goal attempts. If they aren’t able to attack the rim, the question becomes: How will the Wildcats score? That sounds crazy from a team that’s 5th in Offensive Rating and 3rd in points scored per game, but matchups matter and if Louisville can protect the paint and play their usual stellar defense, the Wildcats could have difficulty scoring points.
HOW LOUISVILLE WINS THIS GAME:
– Control the paint: The Cardinals have a huge advantage here: They have four or five legitimate big men they can throw at the undersized Wildcats. The Cardinals are 3rd in the country in blocks, 22nd in total rebounds, and 10th in offensive rebounding. If they can control the paint and protect the rim, keep Kentucky off of the glass, and force them to beat them from the perimeter, Louisville has a legitimate chance to win this game.– Get the Yum! Center rocking: The Cardinals have the luxury of playing at home. They need to find a way to get the crowd into it and drown out the Kentucky faithful that will undoubtedly travel with the team. This is Kentucky’s first true road test this season (they’ve played key opponents on neutral courts thus far and UCLA at Rupp Arena). How will this Kentucky Wildcats team – with seven freshmen and four sophomores – respond to the environment of a tough road game? How will they respond to the raucous crowd in Louisville and this intense rivalry? Will the Wildcats lose composure in their first real road test against an experienced Cardinals team (three seniors, four juniors, and 5 sophomores)? Louisville has an advantage here. Can they utilize it?
– Avoid long scoring droughts: If you watched the Cardinals play Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis, you saw both side of the Cards: They jumped out to a 20 point lead in the first half…and then completely blew it in the second half because of a horrible scoring drought. I wrote about V.J. King earlier this week and how he could develop into the “go-to” guy the Cardinals desperately need, but he’s not there yet and they score by committee: Their leading scorer is Donovan Mitchell at 11.7 ppg, Quentin Snider is 2nd at 11 ppg, Deng Adel is 3rd at 9.7 ppg, Jaylen Johnson is 4th at 9.5 ppg, and King is 5th at 7.9 ppg. When they go through these droughts, who’s going to get them a basket? It’s a question that’s plagued Louisville for two years now and these droughts will kill you against good teams like Kentucky. If they have one of those droughts, this game could turn ugly in a hurry.
I think the game being in Louisville gives the Cardinals a punchers chance of winning. They do have some key advantages in size, in defense, rebounding, and experience, but overall I think Kentucky will win this game. I know Louisville coach Rick Pitino indicated this week that he wanted to push the pace against this Wildcats team, but that seems like a suicide mission given the athletes that UK has. To win this game, Louisville needs to simply bring the pressure defensively and avoid those painful scoring droughts. I think they’ll bring the defense, but there’s no hiding their lack of creator. I think Kentucky wins this game 79-64.