While it is a pretty good chance that either the Kentucky Wildcats or Louisville Cardinals make the Final Four this year, just don’t count on both of them. That is what ESPN’s Jay Bilas told Larry Vaught. Bilas also told Vaught what players are going to make a difference for their team on Saturday:
“Julius Randle and Russ Smith. I don’t think Kentucky will win unless Randle is engaged and fully involved in the offense. Kentucky cannot just put its head down and drive Louisville. Randle has got to get the ball, and he has to want the ball in the right spots and play before he gets the ball,” Bilas said. “Smith is capable of taking over the game and getting 35. He is an incredible college player.”
Randle is averaging 18.2 points and 11.3 rebounds (tied for third nationally) per game for Kentucky and shooting 54.4 percent from the field. However, he has a team-high 40 turnovers in 12 games. Smith is averaging 16.8 points, 5.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game. He has 29 turnovers. Smith has shown the ability to score at the rim or from 3-point range, but he’s also had seven games with five or more assists after having only eight all of last season.
Two years ago UK beat Louisville in Rupp Arena and then met the Cards again in the Final Four semifinals. Could one or both of these teams be Final Four-bound again?
“The odds say no. But I still believe that both are among the four most talented teams. If the tournament started today, I’d say no, but Louisville would have the better chance. Thankfully, the tournament doesn’t start today,” Bilas said.
Sometimes you have to take advice from your enemy. Trust me, they probably know you better than you know yourself in some ways. And so it is that former Vols coach Bruce Pearl has some advice for UK on how to get back on track. Pearl listed five reasons and I sort of agree with him. Here are a couple of them.
1. Be the most excited team in the building.
Watch LeBron James and the Miami Heat or Kidd-Gilchrist in 2011. One or two players on this Kentucky roster have to emerge as the team leader. By example, they must produce energy and enthusiasm every day. I always told my players I could help them win games, but winning championships came from within.
2. Understand who the competition is.
It’s not someone from your team. Offer grace to those who fail around you, but don’t allow them to put their heads down. Do not accept a lack of effort from anyone, and encourage others to, as my colleague Seth Greenberg likes to say, be “invested in the program.” Players need to police their body language.
Number 6 on Pearl’s list was something about the ability to recognize your own house when asked about it by the NCAA.
It’s always important when UK and Louisville meet in anything … but this years meeting has a different urgency to it, due to the fact neither team has a quality win this year.
As of this point, neither Kentucky nor Louisville has a win against a team ranked in the top 25. Kentucky has had 3 tries so far, and each time come up short. Louisville has had only one foe ranked in the top 25, and it happens to be a common opponent with Kentucky — the North Carolina Tar Heels. Louisville lost to the Heels on a neutral court by a larger margin than Kentucky lost to them in Chapel Hill.
Unfortunately for both teams, they play (at least this year) in relatively weak basketball conferences with what now looks like few opportunities to play top ranked foes in their conference schedule. For Louisville, right now it looks like only the Memphis Tigers, whom they will play twice, will be there. It is also possible that the Connecticut Huskiesmay be in the top 25 as well, and Cincinnati could also possibly wind up there for a short time, even though that doesn’t look all that likely.
Kentucky is faced with a similarly difficult situation, since only the Florida Gators andMissouri Tigers appear in a position to be ranked, although LSU has received a random vote or two and could wind up making the grade at some point in the season.
Looking for predictions for the UK/UL game? Larry Vaught has posted a few …
Glover: “I think UK gets the win. Frankly, I’m not sure how good Louisville is because in their only game against a quality team (North Carolina) they looked overmatched. On the other hand, the Cats played North Carolina on the road and seemed far more equipped to beat the Tar Heels, despite all of their flaws. Plus, Rupp will be electric in a way that we’ve only seen a few times. The atmosphere will energize the young players so the effort and energy, that sometimes disappears, will be there.
“Also, because it’s bitter rivalry game, I expect the referees will call it tight to maintain control and that hurts UofL more than Kentucky. Louisville’s grit and UK’s youth will keep it fairly close but the Cats will pull away and win it 83-71.”
Leach: “The game being played in Rupp may give Kentucky the extra edge to get the win against the Cards. This will be the first ‘big’ game that Kentucky has had on its home floor this season and I would expect Big Blue Nation to bring its ‘A’ game.”
We are just a week and a day from the college decision announcement of Matt Elam. Elam was named to the USA Today’s All American list on the second team. Elam is slated to make his college choice on January 4th.