It’s about 24 hours away, the Battle of the Bluegrass. Kentucky enjoys a four game winning streak that includes three in a row in the regular season and a Final Four win. The Louisville Cardinals are ranked fourth in the AP Poll and are heavy favorites in the eyes of most pundits. But the two teams are very even on paper and have played similar schedules. The Wildcats have lost three games, and the Cards have lost just one to Duke. But Louisville was in danger of losing on the road at Memphis and barely beat Illinois State. This game is going to be closer that what the experts and the Cardinal faithful would like to believe.
Here are the likely starting five match-ups between the rivals. I am going by the last starting five that each team put on the floor. Obviously we may may be in for a surprise or two come game time.
Ryan Harrow- 7 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.9 apg
Peyton Siva- 11.4 ppg, 2 rpg, 6.4 apg
This match up doesn’t look close, but Harrow is just now getting back to form and had a career game the last time we saw him play against Marshall. He finished with a season high 23 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and just one turnover. But Peyton Siva has played the entire season and has experience under his belt. He is a senior and has been a part of a Final Four team. But, as we all know, Siva is a poor shooter and prone to a high turnover rate. But, from what we have seen thus far, the edge here would have to go to Siva. But don’t rule Harrow out. As we all know, Siva has had a nightmare run against Kentucky. He has never defeated them thus far in his career.
Julius Mays- 9.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.6 apg
Russ Smith- 19.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.8 apg
This is a lopsided match up. Russ Smith is a legit player of the year candidate and has been Louisville’s best player thus far. His unorthodox style of play and his shoot first mentality accentuates his aggressiveness. He is also a monster on defense, averaging 2.8 steals per game. But his aggressiveness is also his weakness. His defensive pressure often lands him in foul trouble and he continues to shoot even when he is missing. Kentucky has to hope that he is having an off game, something that has been rare this season. Mays has been a steady scorer and a leader for the Cats this season. I have a feeling the Kentucky senior will need to hit some big shots from the three point line to keep the Cats in this game. It’s calm, cool, and collected vs. in your face tenacious play. Russ is going to get his, so long as Kentucky doesn’t let any other Cardinal go big, then let Smith get all he wants.
Archie Goodwin- 16 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.2 apg
Wayne Blackshear- 10 ppg, 4.2 apg, 0.9 apg
Goodwin is the all around better player. He’s a better scorer, a better shooter, a better passer, etc… But his problem is a lack of control. Archie is probably the most athletic player on the floor, but his athleticism gets in the way of his transition offense. Many times his speed comes before his decision making and he is left taking a bad shot or making an errant pass. But when Goodwin puts his head down and drives to the lane, there isn’t a player in the country that can stop him. This gives him frequent trips to the free throw line, where he shoots 69%. Wayne Blackshear has been a bit of a mystery. He was a much hyped player coming out of Chicago and won Illinois Player of the Year as a senior. Many Louisville fans boasted that he was going to be better than Anthony Davis, also out of Chicago. But Blackshear has been hampered by injuries and hasn’t yet materialized into the player he is supposed to be. But he’s shown flashes. He had a great game against Kentucky in the Final Four game. But it will be hard for him to keep up with Goodwin. His conditioning has been an issue, earning him the nickname “Fat Wayne”. Balckshear could explode, but Archie brings it every game. I’ll take consistency over probability every time.