1. “It’s Gotta Happen Eventually, Right?”
There aren’t many people picking Louisville to beat Kentucky, but for those in the small club the rationale is consistent: it’s got to happen eventually.
In a year where Donald Trump was elected President and the Cubs won the World Series, the rationale makes sense, especially when Louisville has homecourt advantage. It makes so much sense that in the preseason I bought into the same ideology. It made even more sense after UK’s Governor’s Cup upset. After all, for almost a decade the loser of the football game won the basketball game. However, the recipe for an upset is much different in the basketball game than the football game.
Even though Stoops’ team entered as 27-point underdogs, the Cats played a brand of football that exploited Louisville’s weaknesses. Teams that possessed the football and beat the Cards up in the trenches kept games close. Even with a once-in-a-generation talent at quarterback, a few mistakes could give Kentucky an opportunity to capitalize, and they did.
For the Louisville basketball team, they don’t the right recipe to upset Kentucky. You beat Kentucky by scoring a ton of points. Louisville’s greatest weakness is their ability to score offensively. They “hunt for shots” too often individually. They can knock down shots with good ball movement, but it usually takes them about a half find their groove. Kentucky’s Kryptonite is their inability to defend stretch forwards. Ray Spalding and Deng Adel fit that mold, but neither are the caliber of Justin Jackson or T.J. Leaf.
Still, the law of averages rationale is in play. It could happen, but it’s much more unlikely now than it was a month ago.
2. Flipping the Rosters
In recent years, the rosters of the rivalry have fit into a familiar template. UK enters with dominating size in the post, tasked to stop one, maybe two efficient UofL post players. On the perimeter, there might be a size advantage for Kentucky, but UofL’s smaller, extremely fast guards create offense by turning defense into transition points.
For this year’s game, you can make the same statements if you flip the team names.
Kentucky is defined by their guard play. Fox and Monk are bigger than Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, but they share a similar style of play. Monk’s ability to heat up and drop a stupid amount of points in a hurry is comparable to Louisville’s “Russdiculous.”
Louisville has plenty of experienced posts that are efficient. Their best is Jaylen Johnson, averaging 9.5 points (62% from FG) and 8.1 rebounds a game. Their best player off the bench, Ray Spalding, is the athletic forward that has given Kentucky fits all year. Bam Adebayo, Isaac Humphries and Co. are formidable, but inconsistent near the rim. The same can be said about Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis on the defensive end.
3. Defense or Offense?
Kentucky averages 95.2 points per game (second in the nation) and is No. 5 in offensive efficiency according to KenPom. Louisville allows just 59.4 points per game (tenth in the nation) and is No. 1 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings. Something has got to give. They say offense wins games but defense wins championships. Good thing this is just one game in the middle of December.