The time has come. New Year’s Eve and Louisville’s entrance into Rupp Arena is finally upon us. There has been little doubt among the Kentucky faithful the Wildcats will win this one convincingly, but as in any rivalry game, nothing is guaranteed. Admittedly, it is hard to say the Cats can lose though. If Rupp Arena is anything like it was when North Carolina came to town, the crowd will simply not allow it. To get you in the right frame of mind going foward, here’s what you can expect to see when the Cats and the Cards square off.
PG: Marquis Teague vs. Peyton Siva
Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague has been really impressive as of late, putting together double-digit scoring days in four of the last five games. Teague has really begun to finish well at the rim and is driving and dishing to open teammates with much more efficiency; that has cut down on the turnovers as well. Siva plays a very similar game to Teague, more so than the two previous Calipari point guards he’s faced. It seems likely Coach Calipari will leave Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Kyle Kuric to avoid allowing an outside shooter get hot, so Teague needs to stay in front on Siva and not let him drive wildly and be bailed out by a foul like he so often does.
Siva isn’t necessarily a shoot-first guard, but he does have the ability to score. Last night he dropped 15 in a loss to Georgetown, but the two previous close calls for the Cards he only scored a combined five points. It isn’t a surefire game plan, but it seems like you slow Peyton Siva’s ability to drive and you slow the entire Cardinal offense. Not really a shocking conclusion, but it is what it is. Teague’s defense on Siva will be a huge factor, and we might see Kidd-Gilchrist slide over on Siva at times to completely lock him down.
SG: Doron Lamb vs. Chris Smith
Doron Lamb will need to be hitting from outside to allow continued work in the paint for Kentucky. Louisville has good size down low, so it won’t be easy for the Cats big men to score. Lamb has his three-point shot falling at just under 50% – a great mark, no doubt. But he has been somewhat inconsistent in his number of shot attempts, only firing up more than three attempts twice in the last nine games. He’s going to need to hit more than one or two from deep to keep the Cards honest in guarding the perimeter.
The Cardinals Chris Smith shoots a lot, and he makes a lot of clutch shots. He isn’t a lights-out shooter like Lamb, but he can score in a hurry with points from behind the arc, he flies under the radar pretty well. Smith probably won’t lose the game for the Cardinals, he doesn’t have a huge negative impact, but if he starts hitting from deep and the Cats aren’t expecting it (think Christian Watford for Indiana) it could spell trouble. It rarely seems Lamb is getting burned defensively, so this shouldn’t be a huge concern. Kuric is really the shooter you need to worry about.
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Kyle Kuric
MKG recently said he plans to “have fun” with Louisville, and there is no reason to believe he won’t. What more can be said about Kidd-Gilchrist that hasn’t already been uttered a thousand times? He’s a beast everywhere on the court, and he should score on Kuric with ease slashing into the paint. Two big things for him against Kuric: One, avoid the offensive fouls. There’s not a better team at taking the charge than Louisville, and Kuric knows how out of control Kidd-Gilchrist can be. Please, don’t get in foul trouble. The second thing is hardly worth mentioning because it comes so naturally for him, but guard the three! The biggest reason Kentucky loses on Saturday is because of the three balls, and Kuric is their man in the corner.
Kyle Kuric is the veteran of this Cardinals team who is a very dangerous shooter – or at least has that ability. He takes 20% of Louisville field goal attempts, and makes 32% of the team’s three-point shots. The only surprising thing; Kuric is only shooting 35% from behind the arc – not exactly nightmare worthy. But don’t let it fool you, in this rivalry all bets are off. Teams always seem to shoot better than they’re supposed to against the Cats. Kuric will score from outside, it’s just a matter of how much. Fortunately for Kentucky, the Cards are struggling as a team to score the basketball, only posting a season average of 72 points-per-game. Don’t you think Kentucky could score that blindfolded?
PF: Terrence Jones vs. Chane Behanan
Terrence Jones finally made an appearance back in the Kentucky lineup last night after a two-game rest with his bummed pinky. He came off the bench and didn’t embarrass himself, posting a nine point, six rebound game. It’s not the Jones we all want or need to see against Louisville, but it’s a step in the right direction after the abysmal performances we saw his last two times on the court. Behanan is going to be a tough match-up for Jones in the paint, especially if he’s still feeling soreness in his pinky finger. Honestly, at this point, it might be better to hope Jones doesn’t do something to really hurt the Cats – like turn it over six times. Maybe he should play not to lose, and give us what he can.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion Terrence Jones would dominate Christian Watford and Indiana, but it wasn’t so. It is possible a similar disappearance could occur against the big bodied Chane Behanan, who is having a very solid Freshman season. He didn’t blow anybody away in the Cardinals last two games against Western Kentucky and Georgetown, but his rebounding ability is solid and he can put the ball in the net on the post up. Behanan could very well be the x-factor for the Cards in this one. A better-than-expected game from him and Louisville might just pull the upset; look for his face all over the floor. Not to say he’s at athletic or even close to as good, but Behanan is similar to Kidd-Gilchrist in that he has diversity in his game to do things you might not expect. Keep an eye on him.
C: Anthony Davis vs. Gorgui Dieng
Like Behanan being the key to a Cardinals victory, Anthony Davis is the key to a Wildcats victory. A big point of emphasis for Coach Calipari in the public practice was limiting fouls, with a team goal of six heading into halftime. That should be reinforced to Davis who will be going against likely the “toughest” opposing center he’s faced all season (the Zeller boys aren’t as big and play a similar game to his). Dieng is big and strong, Davis needs to utilize his quickness more than ever. Stay in front and don’t leave your feet, Anthony. The Cats cannot afford to have you on the bench for an extended period. It should be lob city over Dieng though; he just seems like a player who could easily be exploited over the top.
Aside from the Georgetown loss last night, Gorgui Dieng has posted five straight double-doubles in convincing fashion. The Cardinals as a team usually start slow and go on streaks, and that’s no different for Dieng. He can score quickly, but go on slumps mid-game where he disappears from both sides of the ball. A key for him will be finding the groove over the long armed Davis, because it seems unlikely he’ll settle for pull-up jumpers. Dieng likes to score at the rim and nowhere else; if he wants to play aggressive getting there, let him. Have Davis take the charge.
Go Cats. #LouisvilleDoesntExist