Without question, there is a loud buzz around the Commonwealth about Saturday’s game with UNC. I measure the “how big is the game scale” by who it is that I know that asks me about the game. There are essentially five levels:
1. Friends who are Huge KSR fans only: Every game (i.e. UNC Asheville)
2. Friends who are big UK fans and know I have a website but are “too busy” to ever check it out. (Regular decent games…like Stanford)
3. Strangers via email or in person, who are big fans of the website and who follow every game (your regular South Carolina or LSU tilt)
4. All UK fans who see me in a UK sweatshirt, dont know who I am but are just ready to talk about the Cats’ big game (a regular Tennessee, Florida, UNC, Louisville game)
5. My Next Door Neighbor
The last category always suggest to me that a game has moved from “sports” into the “news” category. She is a sweet woman, who has no idea what I do but sees me wearing UK gear and usually asks me some form of the question, “so are you going to that sports game tonight?” She never knows the opponent, or often even the sport, but she has some vague idea that I like Kentucky. However sometimes she knows that a big game is on the horizon, often when it has found its way into the morning show she watches on the Louisville CW. On those days she will greet me as she did last night with, “I hear that North Carolina is going to be playing Saturday. That should be fun!”
When a game reaches “Next Door Neighbor” significance, then you know its big. It is clear that this North Carolina game has reached Level 5 status. On one hand it is easy to see why. This is Calipari’s first big game, on national television, against the defending NCAA champs, on the race to 2000 wins and against a team oozing with talent like the Big Blue. However on the other hand, this UNC team is nothing like the one last year, they already have a loss, are ranked #10 and UK is a 6 point favorite going into the game. So it is hard to see this so much as a “statement” game, as it is a chance to get a great win against a very good team on your home floor.
In addition, the eyes of the nation will not be upon us. Tomorrow is college football day and most will turn on UNC-Kentucky, hoping for it to end so that the Alabama-Florida game can begin. While both states shaded in blue will make the game required viewing, the rest of the country may tune in, but due to distractions and the early time slot, it wont be the top story on Sportscenter. This week I was asked by a longtime fan if this was the “biggest regular season game in ten years.” For me its not close…give me the two times Florida came in #1, the first Pitino Louisville game and the Stevie Francis Maryland game over this one. This game is exciting, and the Rupp atmosphere will be unbelievable, but it isnt a “must-win” or somehow a reflection of where our program is, or is going. Its a big game and a chance to see just how good this team is…no more and no less.
So enjoy the festivities in Rupp. There is no doubt that it will be a celebration of the fact that the program is back on the national level. I expect enthusiasm, a great effort and in the end, a win. But if there is a loss, dont see it as more than one game against a good team. This is a big game, but it isnt a massive, cant-lose-or you will scream game. That comes January 2 against Louisville.
Here is John Calipari talking about what he thinks of the game: