Look, you know what’s going to happen. It’s easy. One of those Team A vs. Team B comparison charts would be a waste of time. There is no need. It’s a matter of common sense that on Dec. 29 in downtown Louisville, the team you expect to win is going to win. There are no qualifiers or extraneous scenarios in which the opposite could occur.
(And this is the part where I came at you with the twist — like every great writer (wink!) does — ready to turn this wacky argument on its head and say that Calipari is ready to make it five straight over Pitino!)
Well, uh, I did some research, you guys. Louisville is going to beat Kentucky this year. It’s pretty obvious.
Oh sure, you’ll get your share of contrarian columnists with the standard fare: “Can Pitino exorcise Cal’s curse?” and “Yum! Center? More like Hmmm! Center for the Cards.” Of course, there are actual concerns for Louisville, perhaps beginning and ending with the evolving status of center Gorgui Dieng.
It’s confusing — the Dieng injury situation — but here’s where we stand: His wrist broke in November, then, last week, it was OK — cast off! — now it’s not all that healed anymore, or something, so the assumption that he would play against Kentucky was premature. Or, if you’re so inclined, perhaps it was another one of Pitino’s famous smokescreens, where he vastly overstates something that is unverifiable by the general public. Or, what I believe to be most likely, it’s another example of Pitino standing in front of media members and just saying things. He’s not lying, necessarily. He’s just talking. It’s not that he truly believed Luke Hancock was “mentally” and “physically” the best player on the team when he said that totally insane thing last year, but it was just something that ended up coming from his mouth. And besides, no one could prove him wrong.
Sure, Louisville is obviously better with Dieng on the floor. He’s a defensive powerhouse that would match up favorably with Kentucky’s pogo-stick of a center, freshman Nerlens Noel. But without Dieng, Louisville has been nearly as effective. So why risk it, right? Pardon my suggestion that something more nefarious may be afoot, but if the unthinkable happens and the Cards somehow lose to Kentucky — for the fifth straight time — wouldn’t Dieng’s absence be a handy excuse?
But, as you probably know, it won’t even matter. Louisville has plenty of frontcourt brawn to offset Kentucky in the post, especially with the suddenly inspired play of almost-Bellarmine transfer Stephan Van Treese. And there’s depth elsewhere that is sure to wear down the famously shallow Wildcats. Even if backcourt stars Peyton Siva and national player of the year candidate (seriously) Russ Smith are to get called for the hundreds of fouls they commit on the ball and are forced to sit, there’s Kevin Ware — a player on the Louisville basketball team with a uniform and everything — and the aforementioned Hancock, who hit a three the other day I think.
Also, no need to worry about this Kentucky team’s length — a factor that has given Louisville fits the last three years. Alex Poythress is no Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Archie Goodwin is certainly no DeAndre Liggins — the current Wildcats are only 6-7 and 6-5, respectively. Plus, Russ Smith will get his shots no matter who he’s playing. We learned that last year when Smith took 35 shots in two games with Kentucky, making 14.
Of course, rivalry games have been known to veer from the script. Take two years ago, when a Josh Harrellson-led Kentucky team walked into the Yum! Center and crushed the Cards. That wasn’t really supposed to happen. But, as evidenced last season, if one side is considerably more talented, it doesn’t matter the circumstance. Talent wins.
To this point, there is an apparent talent discrepancy. Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer can only go 7-of-9 from three against the Lipscombs of the world. It’s not like this version of Wildcats will show the marked improvement Cal’s three previous teams exhibited. No reason to expect that.
So this is an easy one to predict. Nothing to worry about — you’re probably just being neurotic because Pitino hasn’t beaten Calipari in like eight years. You already know what’s gonna happen.