As we head into Saturday’s showdown between the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals, both teams have one thing in common. Neither team has a quality win on their schedule for the 2013-14 basketball season. It’s not for a lack of trying, however.
Between them, Kentucky and Louisville have faced four ranked opponents and gone 0-4 against them. Kentucky lost to then #2 Michigan State by 4 points, then #20 Baylor by 5 points and then #18 Baylor by 5 points. Louisville has also faced North Carolina when they were ranked #24 and lost by 9 points.
Quality wins are important and the loser of this game are going to get the “can’t beat a good team” tag until they actually beat a ranked team. To get ready for this game, Kentucky and Louisville have taken a very different approach to scheduling to get ready for this game.
You would think that the defending champion 11-1 Cardinals should be considered the better team heading into Saturday’s game against the 9-3 Wildcats, but this may not be the case. CBS Sport’s Jerry Palm actually has given UK a RPI of 26 and Louisville a RPI of 34 and the schedule has a big part of that. According to Palm, Kentucky has the 18th toughest schedule and UK’s opponents have a winning percentage of .6196. Louisville has a SOS of 149th and their opponents are right at .500 for the season. So according to Palm, Kentucky is actually a better team taking on the tough teams and losing by a narrow margin rather than Louisville’s approach of playing virtually no one besides UNC.
According to Palm’s ratings, Kentucky has the biggest win between the two teams over #23 Boise State. Louisville’s biggest win was at home over #40 Southern Miss. Kentucky and UL share losses to #22 UNC, but Kentucky also lost to #11 Baylor and #15 Michigan State. Kentucky has three wins over teams ranked 51-100 (#61 Belmont, #64 E Michigan and #84 Providence) while UL has wins over #69 UL Lafayette and #78 Missouri State.
Kentucky is 4-3 against teams in the top 100 while UL is 3-1. Both teams are 3-0 against teams in the 101-200 range. But the schedule discrepancies really show in the teams scheduled 201+. UK is 2-0 versus these teams and UL is 5-0. The “worst team” Kentucky has scheduled is #289 Northern Kentucky but UL has beaten four teams worse than that: #294 Hartford, #295 Hofstra, #307 Fairfied and #336 Cornell.
Obviously the two coaches have prepared differently for this season. Kentucky has taken its youth and inexperience against the very best teams in the country and played at #22 UNC and away from Rupp against Michigan State, Baylor, and Providence. Louisville, with more experience, has feasted on cupcakes and has just been on one true road game – at FIU. UL also played UNC and Fairfield on a neutral courts. Calipari has a “go anywhere, play anyone mentality” while Pitino has opted for the comforts of home and only tested his team once this year.
It’s just not Palm that has taken notice of this. ESPN ranks UL at #16 in their Basketball Power Index and #40 in their RPI rankings. In contrast, Kentucky is #11 in the BPI and #26 in the RPI rankings. Clearly Kentucky has no bad losses and their close losses to ranked teams show more character than Louisville’s thrashing of the weak teams they play.
In the end, will this show on Saturday? You have to think it will. Kentucky has been through the wars together and has gotten better with every game lately. Louisville has been tested once and did not play UNC nearly as well as Kentucky did. Plus UK played UNC on the road in a harder environment. Louisville has a lot of pieces from their title team intact, only Russ Smith and Chane Behanan have actually played key roles at Rupp versus UK. And there is nothing Louisville has done this year to prepare themselves for what they will face at Rupp.
And hopefully Kentucky’s experience in close games against tough teams can be the deciding factor on Saturday.