Final Four Preview: Kentucky Vs. Louisville


For a Kentucky team who has effortlessly rolled over its four opponents and into the Final Four in New Orleans, there did not seem to be any team, or any storyline, that could possibly halt the Wildcats from cruising to the NCAA tournament title. Teams like Iowa State and Indiana who tried to match John Calipari’s squad shot for shot were eventually run out of the gym. And squads like Baylor, whose gameplan involved slowing the pace of play as much as possible and trying to get the Kentucky big men in foul trouble early, were rudely introduced to a team filled with depth at every position who could stay in rhythm, no matter what the speed of the game. With several future NBA stars currently donning the Wildcat uniforms, it would seem like nothing could get in the way of Calipari’s team.

However, there is one team, and one storyline to be found that has Kentucky fans anxious for Saturday evening’s contest: Coach Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals, who were viewed as mediocre throughout most of the season, and who suddenly found life at the Big East Conference Tournament in Madison Square Garden. In defeating the Cincinnati Bearcats in the final, the Cardinals bumped themselves up to the fourth seed in the western region, yet were still popular picks to be upset either in the first round by Davidson, or in the second round by New Mexico, especially after being bit with the early upset bug last year with a loss to Morehead State. Instead, Pitino’s bunch displayed stifling defense and timely shooting en route to their first Sweet 16 since 2009, when they were the tournament’s top overall seed. Without given much of a chance once again, the Cardinals shut down top-seeded Michigan State, making Tom Izzo’s mature bunch look undisciplined and impacient. And after making key defensive adjustments at halftime of their Elite 8 matchup with Florida, Louisville was able to make the same thing happen, as the Gators began to take poor shots as cruch time hit.

It can be argued that this year’s Louisville team resembles the national championship team of Connecticut from last season. The Huskies were a talented, yet underachieving group in the regular season that used the Big East Tournament to catch fire under a legendary coach, and rode their hot streak to a national title.

However, two detrimental things exist for the Cardinals that were not present during UConn’s championship run. First, the lack of a go-to-guy that can take matters into his own hands will make things awfully difficult for Louisville. While Kyle Kuric has shown flashes of brilliance from long range, everyone saw what happened to Baylor’s Brady Heislip when forced to go against the Wildcat’s tough defense, and while Peyton Siva has managed the game well at point guard, he is inconsistent with his decision making and commits too many turnovers. With UConn last year, the team centered around Kemba Walker, who could take over at any time. In addition, the rest of his supporting cast protected the ball and made smart decisions with great frequency. The other problem for the Cardinals in their quest to win the national title is the presence of a dominant force in the Wildcats, who are one of the best teams to compete in the Final Four in several years.

Louisville has many factors, such as their defensive pressure, desire for redemption on an early season loss to Kentucky, and the hot streak that has carried them this far, that will make fans believe in the Cardinals to pull off a shocking upset. But once the game is underway, the speed of Kentucky will simply be too much for the Cardinals to handle. While the game will most likely be close throughout the first half as the two teams work off both nerves and a bit of rust, the Wildcats will pull away in the second and move one step closer to proving why they are the best team in the nation.