Kentucky vs. Louisville: Complete Game Preview
Last year, the two teams met twice: once in Rupp Arena and once in the Final Four in New Orleans.
Kentucky won both meetings.
This year, however, it is the No. 4 Cardinals that have the clear upper hand. Kentucky has lost three games and is out of the AP Top 25 for another week.
Can Kentucky extend its four-game win streak over Louisville? Or will the Cardinals avenge their Final Four loss from year ago?
Who: Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals
When: 4:00 p.m. EST
Where: KFC Yum! Center
Where to watch: CBS, CBSSports.com
John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader gives us an interesting tidbit via Twitter:
This year's Kentucky-Louisville game is first time since series resumed in 1983-84 that UK is unranked while Louisville is in top 5.— John Clay (@johnclayiv) December 24, 2012
Starters Ryan Harrow (Kentucky) and Peyton Siva (Louisville) are at their best when they can break down the opposing defense.
Harrow has continued to improve and is a threat on offense if he remains confident. But Siva has experience. He was the 2012-13 Big East Preseason Player of the Year, and he leads the Cardinals in assists with 6.3 per game.
Likely starters Julius Mays and Russ Smith have polarizing play styles. Mays is a stabilizing influence in the Kentucky offense. He rarely makes mistakes, but he won't take risks either. He always looks for a clean shot.
Smith, on the other hand, has a very quick trigger—and he's having a career year. His 19.7 points per game lead both teams in this contest, and you can bet he'll leave his mark on this game.
Here's the wildcard matchup: Archie Goodwin vs. Wayne Blackshear. Both are likely shooting guards at the next level, and both are great offensive threats. Goodwin is relied upon to create his own shot in the Kentucky offense, whereas Blackshear is a complementary scorer in the Louisville offense.
But Blackshear has flourished in Louisville's past two games. He's scored a combined 35 points on 14-of-25 shooting, going 7-of-14 from beyond the arc. Goodwin, however, has struggled to shoot as of late.
Alex Poythress and Chane Behanan make for another intriguing matchup. Both are 235-plus pounds, and both are multi-talented forwards.
If Poythress stays focused, he'll have the upper hand here. He's capable of dominating games on both ends of the floor. But he's been prone to foul trouble, something Behanan could exploit early on.
If Gorgui Dieng plays, this matchup is tough to call. But his status is unlikely for the Kentucky game. His replacements, Stephan Van Treese and Zach Price, have not had his effectiveness on either side of the ball.
Which gives us Nerlens Noel. He doesn't have much of an offensive game to speak of, but his impact on the defensive end more than makes up for any offensive shortcomings.
Kentucky Keys to the Game
If the position breakdown was any indication, Kentucky has an uphill battle on Dec. 29.
But with Gorgui Dieng (potentially) sidelined, the Louisville defense becomes much less imposing in the half court.
Limiting turnovers, particularly against the Louisville press, will be critical for the Wildcats.
Kentucky thrives in the open court, but to be successful against Louisville, it'll have to get the ball across the timeline.
In the half court, Kentucky has struggled. But Dieng's injury makes penetrating an attractive offensive option, an area in which Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow excel.
Defensively, it's more of the same for Kentucky. Keeping the Cardinals off of the glass will take a team effort. With Kentucky's lack of depth compared to the Cards, staying out of foul trouble will be an important factor as well.
Louisville Keys to the Game
Expect Louisville to turn up the heat on Kentucky. The Cardinals boast superior depth and experience, two advantages Rick Pitino will be sure to exploit.
Louisville will need to force turnovers in its full-court press and capitalize (score). But that's only the first step to Pitino's first victory against John Calipari's Wildcats.
Kentucky will look to limit Louisville to one shot, meaning the Cards will need to create quality looks.
Russ Smith and Peyton Siva will have their opportunities to score. The Cards will need a third scoring option (Wayne Blackshear) to emerge for their offense to be as potent as possible.
If Blackshear continues his current upward trend, Kentucky will have a tough time winning.
Louisville will also have one dominating factor in its favor: noise.
If the Cards can keep the crowd energized and involved, expect the young Wildcats to turn the ball over even more.
It will take a near-perfect game for Kentucky to pull out a win in Louisville.
Even without Gorgui Dieng, depth favors the Cardinals. Kentucky has talent, sure, but it would take an out-of-character performance by the Wildcats to pull off the upset.
Archie Goodwin will need to play under control. Nerlens Noel will need to be an offensive threat. Both players have struggled to be consistent this season.
Louisville, on the other hand, needs to play like it's played recently. Wayne Blackshear has evolved into an all-around offensive threat. Peyton Siva has been playing as we'd expect, and Russ Smith is one of the top scorers in the country.
Expect a hard-fought game from both sides, with Louisville's pressure proving to be the difference.
Louisville wins, 69-63.