I cannot lie: My team is best
You know, you always hear a few people say, “I’m a fan of both teams. I like Kentucky and Louisville.”
It’s like a voter declaring, “I like both parties, Republican and Democrat.”
Nobody believes that stuff.
Except for “move-ins,” people around here are either Cardinal Red or Wildcat Blue. And while circumstances at home, or at the office, might dictate a diplomatic front, come Saturday afternoon when Louisville plays Kentucky in Rupp Arena in Lexington, you’ll find that most of the so-called independents will have snuck off to be with their own kind.
So I’m not going to try to fool anybody. Sportswriters are supposed to be objective, but you won’t see me wearing a blue shirt to go with my red pants on Saturday. (And I’m not voting for any Republicans.)
But that doesn’t mean the truth can’t be told: The scoop is that Saturday is probably the best chance Kentucky would have to beat Louisville this season.
Even though the Wildcats were slaughtered Saturday by Indiana, Kentucky (6-3) is further along in its December development than Louisville. Kentucky has already played Iowa, West Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana.
Louisville (5-0) hasn’t played any team that even remotely resembles that caliber of competition. (Is Faber College on this schedule?) Half of the roster are freshmen, and the Cards’ best big men have been sidelined for much of pre-season practice nursing leg injuries and surgeries.
Plus, you’d expect Kentucky, with all its tradition, to rally at home this Saturday against Louisville.
But as the season wears on, talent will tell, and Louisville has the true upside potential. It has the best players, and will again go farther than Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky fans just laugh when sports scribes pick against their team. Because history is on their side. They’ve laughed last more times than any other school. But Cats fans don’t like it at all when their players are ranked below others. So we’ll say it again:
Louisville has the best players.
And it’s true.
Certainly, Louisville’s Taquan Dean, Juan Palacios and David Padgett stand out on the hardwood. And the ball just seems to come to Brian Johnson. Freshman Terrence Williams has an un-refined outside shot, but he’s already cracked the starting line-up. Way down the bench is Jonathan Huffman — a 7-foot scoring forward, someday.
The thing Louisville really needs is to find two more three-point shooters to go with dead-eye Dean. Everyone knows Rick Pitino’s offense ignites when he’s got three guns blazing.
Kentucky doesn’t have that kind of talent.
Rajon Rondo is one of the nation’s outstanding driving guards. But he doesn’t shoot the “three.” Kentucky was 2-for-27 from the three-point line against Indiana, and Rondo was 0-6. Bluntly put, it’s a team of hod carriers who couldn’t throw a brick in the Kentucky River.
But here’s a contrarian prediction: Kentucky will improve as soon as the long, long-running Randolph Morris saga ends. And that may be soon. Last week the NCAA ruled the Kentucky center ineligible for a year for taking $7,000 in cash payments from sports agents. Morris is a decent center, but he certainly hasn’t been worth the distraction.
Besides, the Cats still have 21 feet worth of centers. Tallest of the three remaining centers — 7-feet-3 Shagari Alleyne — can reach the rim without jumping off the floor! That has to mean something in basketball.
Saturday, we expect Louisville to employ a zone defense and DARE Kentucky to shoot from the outside. And/or Pitino will try to glue defensive specialist Brandon Jenkins to Rondo.
Meanwhile, Kentucky will try to wear Louisville down with 40 minutes of tough team defense. Kentucky coach Smith is adept at substituting to keep the steam in his team.
Louisville hopes Padgett will score inside, and that the threes fall.
The slickest play Louisville has made this season came the other night against Richmond. Louisville was pressing. Reserve guard Andre McGee stole the ball and whipped a pass to teammate Dean, who was already stepping back over an extended (international rules) three-point line. Dean caught McGee’s pass, set his feet in stride — and instantly swished a three. The whole thing took less than two seconds. Maybe less than one.
Those plays are there for Louisville. But it will be hard to expect an avalanche of them this early in the season.
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