Are the Kentucky Wildcats replacing Duke as college basketball's most hated team

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Apr 2, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari waves to the crowd as he cuts down a piece of the net after the finals of the 2012 NCAA men

Apr 2, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari waves to the crowd as he cuts down a piece of the net after the finals of the 2012 NCAA men

You don’t think Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals have circled a certain December game on their calendar?  Though the game is still 9 days away, the Louisville Cardinals are getting out of dodge in preparation for their match-up against the Kentucky Wildcats on 12/28/2013.

LOUISVILLE — According to Rick Pitino, the best way is to get away.

So the Louisville coach said Tuesday night. His Cardinals had just mauled Missouri State 90-60 at the KFC Yum Center.

Pitino called it the best game his team had played all season, especially on defense. “Brilliant” was one adjective he used. “Spectacular” was another.

Wednesday, the Cards departed on a five-day road trip for Saturday’s game at Florida International. NCAA rules have changed. When school is not in session, teams don’t have to practice on campus. So Pitino planned double sessions in the Sunshine State. He wants to get ready for FIU. He also wants something else.

Is it a good time to get out of town with Kentucky coming up?

“That’s why I did it,” Pitino said and the media room laughed at the joke. Yet the more Pitino talked the more it sounded like he wasn’t joking.

“We wanted to get away, to get out of town before this Kentucky game, get out,” Pitino said when the subject swung back around to the Florida trip. “We know how big a game it is, not only a rivalry game but two teams with a lot of talent and lot of abilities. We just really want to practice, get away from it.”

In fact, Pitino said that before Tuesday his defending national champions had turned in their best practices all season.

“We’ve been spending so much time on free throws it’s really frustrating we’re not shooting it better,” said the coach after his team made just 16 of 30 from the foul line. “But we’ll keep on working on it. We’ll have a lot of double sessions down there.”

This coming Saturday’s game against Belmont should be a relatively uneventful one, despite the fact that Belmont beat North Carolina who beat Kentucky.  So no, A+B does not =C and I expect Kentucky to wear Belmont out in the post.  What’s interesting is that Belmont’s head coach, Rick Byrd is the chairperson of the committee who changed the foul rules this season.  I haven’t analyzed many of the stats re: reducing physical play some but they’re pretty fascinating.

Last week, the NCAA released statistics that suggested the officiating changes are having the intended effect. Through games of Dec. 8, teams were scoring more: 73.81 points per game as opposed to 68.38 points at that point of last season. Shooting had improved slightly (from 43.3 percent to 44.7). Teams were whistled for an average of two more fouls per game. Teams were shooting five more free throws per game.

Byrd, who is in his 29th season as Belmont coach, said Tokoto and like-minded fans will get games with greater flow in time.

“I think that flow will return when players and coaches continue to understand these kind of fouls will be called,” he said. “And if you want to continue playing and not sit on the bench, then you’re going to have to (adapt).”

Kentucky Coach John Calipari, whose team plays Belmont on Saturday, has been an unabashed supporter of the new style of officiating. Coincidentally or not, it fits his dribble-drive offense.

“For me, what it’s done is create even more of a driving game,” Byrd said. “It’s very, very difficult to guard a guy who can put the ball on the floor. It already was. Now, it’s harder.”

Kentucky made that clear in the 82-77 loss at North Carolina on Saturday. UK players reaped the benefits of repeated drives to the basket, especially in the second half. The Cats shot 26 free throws in the second half, in part because of being eligible to shoot the one-and-one with 15:21 left.

The misleading idea of Kentucky being solely dependent on drives led Byrd to quip, “They do have a big guy that they can throw it into that will take about four of us to guard.”

That would be Julius Randle.

As Byrd noted, not every game is a foul-fest filled with drives to the basket and free-throw shooting. Belmont lost 90-62 Tuesday at Denver, a team that runs the so-called Princeton offense. The Pioneers’ 55.6 percent shooting included 12-for-23 accuracy from three-point range.

“If I was watching the game (as a fan), I’d have enjoyed watching it,” Byrd said.

The Belmont coach noted how the publicity about the change in officiating created a flood of opinion.

As players and coaches adapt, the number of fouls per game has been “pretty ordinary,” Byrd said.

Kentucky’s average number of fouls per game has increased from 17.2 last season to 18.8 so far this season. By contrast, Louisville, which plays a more aggressive, pressure defense, has seen its average number of fouls increase only from 18.2 to 18.8.

Jake Bell, the supervisor of officials for the Southeastern Conference, applauded the change in block/charge calls. The benefit of the doubt now goes to the offense, which has greatly reduced the number of times a defender tries to draw a charge.

Bell suggested that the all-important adaptation to the new officiating will eventually result in even more scoring and, perhaps more importantly, less fouling and free-throw shooting.

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