Bracket Briefing: 10 reasons UofL vs. UK will be awesome

Bracket Briefing: 10 reasons UofL vs. UK will be awesome

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Bracket Briefing: 10 reasons UofL vs. UK will be awesome

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by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY

WHAS11.com

Posted on March 28, 2014 at 8:24 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 28 at 10:50 PM

(USA TODAY) -- AT THE WATER COOLER: The NCAA tournament has already given us a multitude of memorable moments. Friday's Sweet 16 matchup between archrivals Louisville and Kentucky has the potential to trump even the best imprints on our memories — and that includes Mercer stunning Duke and Dayton's continuing Cinderella run.

What makes Louisville vs. Kentucky so awesome?

1. The rivalry: Louisville's Russ Smith compared the rivalry to the Mets vs. Yankees. Kentucky isn't the Big Apple, but there's the intensity of Duke vs. North Carolina plus the recent success that will make this clash so significant. The rivalry has everything you want as a sports fan: 70 miles separates the schools, and fans go flat out bonkers showing their pride. Louisville-Kentucky is the Bluegrass State's version of the Civil War. When the teams met in the Final Four two years ago, tempers in Kentucky got so hot that patients at a dialysis center got into a fight. Overall, Kentucky has a 31-15 edge against Louisville.

2. Both teams are hot: Obviously both teams are playing well to have reached the Sweet 16. But they've both are showing national title contender form. The Wildcats lost to Florida by one point in the SEC tournament title game and played as cohesively as they've played all season in an upset win against then-undefeated Wichita State team. Kentucky players have described a tweak as the turning point in their season. Whatever that was, it's working. And Louisville is on a seven-game winning streak that includes an American Athletic Conference tournament title, and the Cardinals have won 14 of their past 15. During that stretch, Louisville obliterated Rutgers by 61 points. Louisville's first two NCAA tourney games can be deceiving based on the so-so play of Smith and the specific matchups. Manhattan played the exact style of Louisville and when any time teams such as Saint Louis and Louisville play each other, well, it's going to be an ugly defensive war.

3. Kentucky's freshmen: John Calipari's star-studded recruiting class, which included eight McDonald's All-Americans, entered 2013-14 with towering expectations and started with a No. 1 preseason ranking. It took a while for these freshmen to jell, and now the togetherness Calipari has been searching for all season seems to be in place. After Calipari won the national title with a freshmen-laden roster in 2010, the one-and-done debate officially ignited. USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour defends Calipari and points the finger at the NCAA in her recent column:
John Calipari makes an easy target for all that's wrong with big-time college sports. He's built a career on the one-and-dones, churning out wins and teen-age NBA draft picks at a dizzying rate. ...The NCAA has problems — lots of them. Calipari and his system are the least of them. "The rule is not my rule," he said Thursday. "I believe it should be a two year rule. But it's between the NBA and the Players Association. Has nothing to do with me or the NCAA."

4. Louisville's veterans: It's almost as if it was forgotten the Cardinals are the defending national champions, returning an All-American in Smith and Final Four MOP Luke Hancock. And it's not like the fill-ins aren't capable. Sophomore Montrezl Harrell has blossomed into a productive big man. Though Chris Jones is a downgrade from Peyton Siva, he's been effective nonetheless. The thing about veterans is the fact that there's a maturity factor. Smith, for instance, is much smarter and patient this season based on his experience.

5. Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari: Pitino, who coached at Kentucky (from 1989-97) and won a championship with the Wildcats, is 16-0 in Sweet 16 games. Calipari has more of a checkered past, having two Final Four appearances vacated (at Memphis and UMass), but he is charismatic ... and he is the face of one of the most tradition-rich programs in college sports. Adam Himmelsbach writes on the duo's star power and frosty relationship here. And here's proof that the two coaches might be on good terms.

6. Julius Randle vs. Montrezl Harrell: The battle in the paint between Montrezl Harrell and Julius Randle will be must-watch. Randle fuels Kentucky on offense and defense with his tenacity and "pit bull" aggressiveness so stopping him will be a top priority for Louisville. That assignment will fall on Harrell, who will need to avoid foul trouble. Here's Kyle Tucker's great profile on Randle and how he absorbed his mother's toughness.

7. Russdiculouss vs. Harrison twins: Smith is better known as Russdiculous for his ability to score at will and also for his turnover-prone play over the years. His decision-making has been much better this year, and he's a much stronger catalyst — creating for his teammates with a much more unselfish demeanor. Likewise, the turnover-happy Harrison twins have come a long way in terms of their decisions that often led to Calipari huddle meltdowns. The major question mark for these players, though, comes with their offensive production. Andrew and Aaron came up big in the win vs. Wichita State. Smith, meanwhile, hasn't been shooting extremely well and lacked explosion in Louisville's two games, and he was scoreless in the final 8:43 of Louisville's loss to Kentucky in the regular season. Jeff Greer breaks down why Smith needs to play well for the Cardinals to come out on top.

8. A rematch of a great regular-season game: Kentucky prevailed 73-66 in a Dec. 28 clash. However, that game was at Rupp Arena in front of the Wildcats' faithful. Each team has progressed tremendously. For Kentucky, it's been the aforementioned maturity. For Louisville, it's been honing in on what they do extremely well, and that's defensive pressure, which can fluster even the savviest of guards.

9. These are the past two NCAA champions: Kentucky won the national title in 2012 but missed the NCAAs last season when Louisville cut down the nets. That makes this matchup all the more enticing, because the winner have momentum and the championship background to garner attention as a favorite to sneak into national title contention.

10. Celebrities: The key ingredient for an awesome rivalry game, right? Forget Spike Lee or Jack Nicholson. Kentucky has the support of Ashley Judd and Louisville has Jennifer Lawrence aka Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games shoutout). Louisville mayor Greg Fischer has also added some pizzazz. The game may be dividing Kentuckians, but Fischer isn't afraid to pick a side. In a town that contains a fair number of Wildcats fans, Fischer declared that Friday is officially "Cardinal Red Day."

Kentucky Wildcats fan and film actress Ashley Judd cheers for there team against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first half at Memorial Gym.  Jim Brown, USA TODAY Sports
 

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