In case you’re curious what all that commotion was down I-64 earlier today, Russ Smith and his ridiculousness announced he will return to Louisville for his senior season.
While his decision means Louisville will be even better next season, a notion that would normally cause one of those angry tumbleweeds from Charlie Brown to start spinning above the Big Blue Nation’s head, I think it’s great. Louisville will return Smith, Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear, Kevin Ware and Montrezl Harrell next season, along with incoming JuCo point guard Chris Jones and freshman Terry Rozier. The only pieces missing from their Championship squad? Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva. Their cupboard, as they say, is stocked.
Which will make beating them on December 28th even sweeter.
Right now, the only team with a better case at winning the National Title next season than Louisville is Kentucky, and that’s even if Andrew Wiggins decides to go elsewhere. Finally, both sides of the rivalry will be at full strength. In each of the previous UK/UofL games during the Calipari Era, one team has been stronger than the other. In 2010, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson were simply too talented for a shell-shocked Pitino. Next season’s squad cruised by the Cards by a comfortable 15-point margin at the Yum Center. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s group had the pleasure of beating Louisville twice, and even though Calipari’s perfect storm was too much for Louisville to handle, you could tell that the Cards would be back. Sure enough, they were, and despite an inspired performance from a bad Kentucky team, Louisville finally got the best of the Cats in December and exorcised some demons.
One of our only comforts while watching Louisville win the NCAA Tournament was the fact that next season, we would be back. With the best freshmen class in history lining up in the wings and Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Kyle Wiltjer all coming back, Calipari will have the ingredients for another Championship blend. In a way, the roles will totally be reversed: instead of Louisville being hungry with something to prove, it will be Kentucky and Calipari with the memories of defeat and national humiliation fueling the fire. Louisville will now shoulder the burden of being the defending National Champion, except they won’t have any excuses to fall back on now that Russ Smith has decided to return for another year. The best part? It will all go down in Rupp Arena with the entire nation as an audience. Hide ya kids, hide ya wife, ’cause December 28th is gonna be nuts.
The Kentucky/Louisville rivalry has a way of bringing out the best in both teams. And you know what they say: to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.
I say bring it on.