In both football and basketball, Kentucky faces some of the hardest opponents of anyone in the country. The still-improving football team plays five of the top ten teams, and the basketball team is renewing a rivalry with North Carolina en route to a stacked non-conference slate.
But when you look at Louisville, you see an unbelievably underwhelming list of opponents. There could not be schedules more opposite; the Cardinals’ year in both major sports is going to be spent beating up on teams
1) Sense of Accomplishment
There’s very little to feel good about after winning a game that favored you by double-digits. Sure, it’s fun to see MKG throw down against Portland, and the Darius Miller dunk when St. John’s visited is one of my best Rupp memories. But these games are like sports junk food: fun while they’re happening, but they leave you dissatisfied after. Would the 2nd Bluegrass Miracle in 2007 have been as great if it had been against Florida International? Of course not. The harder schedule feels more like “eating healthy.” More challenging, but far more rewarding.
2) No Excuses
If Louisville has a successful year again this year, then sure, good for them, whatever. But if they lose? If they don’t end the football regular season at 12-0, they got some serious ‘splainin to do. How could a team ranked in the top ten lose to Houston? Or Ohio? And what if they enter the Kentucky basketball game with a loss? That would mean they dropped the ball against Hofstra, Missouri State, or Southern Miss. Simply inexcusable. Meanwhile, if Kentucky loses a game (and they’re likely to), we don’t really have to explain ourselves. We’re going to compete in the SEC, but nobody will look at us askance if we drop a football game to Georgia. And if we drop a game before we meet Louisville, well it’ll probably be to a top five team like Michigan State, or a perennial powerhouse like North Carolina. Obviously, we should win those games, but if we don’t, it’s not a catastrophe.
3) Better Preparation
If playing harder teams is akin to eating healthy, then the team that plays more rigorously through the regular season is more prepared to perform well in the postseason. The 2012 title team had a rough go against a surging Indiana in the regular season, and a tenacious Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament. Think those didn’t prepare them for March? Louisiana-Lafayette is unlikely to do the same.
4) More Fun for Fans
Who’s gonna pay money to see crap games against shoddy teams? Obviously, Kentucky fans would, because Rupp is always full, and Louisville fans probably would too. That’s what fans do. But they won’t be as happy about it. Going to a game to see your team whallop a nobody is pretty fun, but going to see your team compete in a game where the outcome is seriously in question is the best. North Carolina in 2011 and Missouri earlier this year are two of the best times I’ve ever been in Rupp, and you could tell that everyone in the arena was having an absolute blast. Even in football, where it’s harder to compete and the outcome is less favorable, and more predictable, it’s fun to see the big boys come into town. You just don’t get the same experience with schlubs. And the fans in Louisville have every right to complain about Jurich’s line-up.
5) Fewer Pigtails
Adorable, just like Louisville’s schedules.