NCAA Tournament 2012 Schedule: Kentucky Must Bring A-Game Against Louisville

Jessica MarieCorrespondent IIMarch 26, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 24:  Chris Smith #5 of the Louisville Cardinals cuts down the net after defeating the Florida Gators 72-68 during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball West Regional Final at US Airways Center on March 24, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Wildcats, on paper, are the best team remaining in this year's NCAA tournament field, just like they were the best team on paper for most of the 2011-12 season.

But as was proven in the SEC tournament—and as Connecticut proved in last year's Big Dance—the best team on paper doesn't always win.

Kentucky dispatched Baylor 82-70 to advance to the Final Four, and it did so with a dominating performance that included a 20-point halftime lead, a balanced offensive effort and a defense that registered nine steals and nine blocks.

Since they lost to Vanderbilt in the conference championship in early March, no team has been able to pose a serious threat to the top-seeded Wildcats. The team that came the closest was Indiana in the Sweet 16, which was the only other team besides the Commodores to beat Kentucky this season.

But Louisville—champions of the Big East, perhaps the most competitive conference in college basketball this season—could be the team that finally poses a threat to the Wildcats' national championship dreams.

The Cardinals trailed Florida by 11 with 8:16 left in their Elite 8 matchup and embarked on a 23-8 run that led them to their first Final Four since 2005. After allowing Florida to go 7-for-10 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Cardinals switched to a man-to-man scheme for the majority of the second half, holding the Gators to one three-pointer the rest of the way.

In the Sweet 16, Louisville took down No. 1 seed Michigan State 57-44, holding the Spartans to the worst offensive performance by a top seed in the shot clock era.

Kentucky is one of the most stacked teams offensively in this year's pool, but Rick Pitino's squad has proven it can make the necessary adjustments on defense to eke out a victory.

When these two teams faced off at Kentucky on December 31, freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tallied 24 points and 19 rebounds in a 69-62 Wildcats victory. The Cardinals, meanwhile, shot 32.3 percent from the field and a dismal 4-for-18 from three-point range. That loss jump-started an ugly stretch for Louisville in which it lost four of six, but since then, it has only lost four times.

The Cardinals know what they need to do to beat the Wildcats this time around, and after exhibiting drastic improvements on both side of the ball, they just might be able to do it.

Here's the schedule for next weekend's Final Four in New Orleans (all times Eastern). You can catch all the action live on CBS, or follow along right here on the Bleacher Report with our live blogs.

March 31, 6:09 p.m., CBS
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 1 Kentucky

March 31, 8:49 p.m., CBS
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Kansas