49. The amount of times that the University of Kentucky Wildcats and the University of Louisville Cardinals have faced each other in men’s basketball. 49 times that the residents of this state and fans across the country were treated to one of the best rivalries in sports. 49 times the state has been split blue vs red (for non-political reasons). 49 epic battles, some better than others.
The Cats lead the overall series 34-15, including winning 11 of the last 14 games. The first game, back in 1913, had a final result of a 34-10 Kentucky victory. The 50th game I’ll guess will be a little closer and a little higher scoring.
Tonight, we see number 50.
#45 Donovan Mitchell, Sophomore Guard, 6’3″
Donovan Mitchell, according to Rick Pitino, is the second best shooter on this Louisville squad. He’s taken a team-leading 62 threes on the season, making only 18 of them for a 29% clip. He only shot 25% from deep last season. It could be one of those “He makes them in practice” sort of things, so he’s encouraged to take them during the game. Regardless, if a guy is going to get hot, the UK-Louisville game is the time to do it. However, so far, he’s just literally not the second best shooter on the team regardless of how Pitino wants to hype him up.
Mitchell is the leading scorer for this Louisville team at 11.7 points per game to go along with 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and a team leading 2.5 steals per game. He’s a really explosive athlete that can get to the rim, but his shooting is a bit of an enigma. He’s attempted the most shots on the team, shooting it almost 11 times a game, including 5.6 threes per game. But he’s only shooting 37.5% from the field, a really unimpressive mark for the leading scorer of a team.
The sophomore scored 8 points and pulled down 5 rebounds against the Cats last season. Tonight, I think it will be a mix of Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk guarding Mitchell. Briscoe usually guards the opponents’ top scorer, but Coach Cal also likes Briscoe guarding a bigger wing player more than he likes Monk in that spot.
#4 Quentin Snider, Junior Guard, 6’2″
Quentin Snider is the quarterback of the offense for the Cards. He was one of the most consistent players for last season’s team, scoring over 9 points per game and shooting over 40% from deep. This season, he’s running the offense full-time, and leading the team in assists.
Snider is averaging 11 points, 3.8 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 33% from downtown and even worse from the field at 32%. Louisville has a history of letting the guards take a lot of shots, but it is actually impressive to me that they’re 10-1 with two guards shooting the majority of the shots and only making about a third of them.
The Louisville native will match up with De’Aaron Fox most likely for the Cats. To his credit, Snider is not very turnover prone for how often he has the ball in his hands. But to De’Aaron Fox’s credit, I can guarantee Snider hasn’t faced a quicker defender than Fox all season. If Fox can pressure Snider on the ball, I think we should see some forced turnovers.
#22 Deng Adel, Sophomore Forward, 6’7″
Here’s one thing that Louisville and Kentucky will actually have in common tonight. An Aussie will be playing major minutes for both sides. Deng Adel, a native of Melbourne, Australia, plays the swingman position for the Cards. He is a long and athletic wing who can slash to the rim very well.
Adel is the third Louisville player who has taken over 100 shots this season, while no other player is even within 30 of that mark. The difference with Adel though, is that he doesn’t take near as many threes as the two starting guards, meaning that a lot of his shots come on drives and cuts to the basket. He’s scoring 9.7 points to go with 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and one steal per game.
This position is always hard to choose for me. Like I mentioned earlier, Coach Cal likes for Briscoe to guard the biggest of the three back court players for the opposing team. The big difference here is that Adel is not the offensive threat that Donovan Mitchell is, and you definitely want Briscoe defending the best player. Malik Monk could draw this matchup, but Briscoe would be option 1a if that ends up being the case.
#10 Jaylen Johnson, Junior Forward, 6’9″
Jaylen Johnson played some valuable minutes off the bench last season, but was never a huge statistical contributor. This year, in a new starting role, Johnson’s stats have increased a good deal and is now one of the bigger contributors on the team, averaging the closest to a double double.
Johnson is scoring just shy of double digits at 9.5 points per game and he is leading the team in rebounding at 8.1 boards per game. He has the highest shooting percentage in the starting lineup at 62.3%, and it is mostly due to the fact that he’s taking a lot of high percentage shots. Louisville’s guards drive a lot, and when defenders help off of Johnson, he is there for easy assists.
I say it in these posts in what feels like every game, but the four-spot is the weakest defensive position for the Cats and it isn’t close. The Derek Willis/Wenyen Gabriel platoon has been miserable defensively this season, but they both will really need to step up against the Cards. Johnson is grabbing almost four offensive rebounds per game, one of the best in the country. Willis and Gabriel must put a body on Johnson to stop him from taking over the offensive glass.
#12 Mangok Mathiang, Senior Center, 6’10”
Maybe it is because the Cats play Louisville every year, and sometimes twice a year, but I feel like Mangok Mathiang has been playing for Louisville since the Bush administration. Mathiang is the second Australian born player in the starting lineup for the Cards. He was named team captain by Rick Pitino before the season started.
Mathiang will never be a guy that blows you away when you look at the box score, but he will do exactly what is asked of him on both ends of the court. He’s putting up 6.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. His long arms on a 6’10” body make him a solid defender on guards that try to drive the lane, as well as on bigs who try post-hooks over top of him.
The redshirt senior isn’t much of an outside of the lane shooter, but can knock down a short jumper if necessary. He’ll get matched up with Bam in tonight’s game, and he’ll give up 30 pounds of pure muscle in the matchup. We saw what Adebayo can do against guys who can’t body him up and also can’t stick with his athleticism in some of his post moves against Carolina. I expect to see the Cats go to those moves to try to get Bam going early.
What can be said about this game that hasn’t been said in the past or at some point this week already? These coaches know how the other coach’s and some of these players have played against each other for years. The fans from both sides know the opposing team front and back. Everyone in this state loves this game. Let’s hope the 50th edition lives up to the hype of the rivalry.
Go Cats. Beat Cardinals.