As the University of Kentucky dominates the headlines with their hiring of John Calipari, the return of star big man Patrick Patterson, and inking the top recruiting class of 2009, a side issue to those stories is often lost in the shuffle: how does the recent surge by the University of Kentucky affect the University of Louisville?
In most states, the actions of one basketball program has little, to no affect whatsoever on another program. However, we do not live in most states. We live in Kentucky, and our basketball programs, specifically the Universities of Louisville and Kentucky, are sacred. With the hiring of John Calipari and his recent success on the recruiting trail, the University of Kentucky is now poised to re-emerge on the national scene of college basketball as a perennial force. As a result, it begs the question: where does that leave Louisville?
Before I get into all of that, I would like to provide some context. I am a huge Louisville fan and have been all my life. I attend the University of Louisville and regularly attend football and basketball games. I have also been to many Kentucky basketball games in recent years, especially when provided a free ticket. I have no deep seeded hatred for Kentucky and do not actively root against them.
However, as soon as that day rolls around when Louisville and Kentucky line up against each other, whether it be on the football field or basketball court, I would like nothing more than for Louisville to absolutely humiliate Kentucky. I am a firm advocate for defeating them and unnecessarily running up the score if possible, which I’m fairly confident is the reason I do not completely despise Bobby Petrino.
In recent years, there is no doubt the University of Louisville became a more relevant and successful program than Kentucky. Since the hiring of Rick Pitino, Louisville went from the brink of NCAA violations to the Final Four, and now are a perennial top 10 team. While the performance on the court improved drastically, the other aspects of building or rebuilding a program were undertaken and completed.
Louisville returned to playing on national television starting during the latter years of Conference USA, but skyrocketed once they joined the Big East conference. Anytime a Louisville assistant coach walks into a gym to watch a recruit, every player takes notice because of the stature of Louisville’s program. And quite frankly, Louisville has been the sexier program. What I mean is, to a recruit, the brand of Louisville basketball has been more appealing than Kentucky.
However, that is no longer the case. John Calipari has already brought back the brand of Kentucky basketball without having coached a single contest. He will consistently bring in top talent and put out a highly formidable team year after year. Having said all of that, I will now get to the point. From a Louisville fans’ perspective, how does the current/impending re-emergence of the Kentucky program affect my outlook of the Louisville program? The answer: NOT. ONE. BIT. Here’s why.
The common concern I hear among Louisville fans is that Calipari is now going to kill the Cardinals in recruiting because he will take every top player. Calipari’s recruiting philosophy is different than Pitino’s, and I do not believe it will be a problem simply because Louisville and Kentucky do not play in the same conference.
Louisville plays in the powerhouse Big East while Kentucky plays in the weaker South Eastern Conference. Just so no one misunderstands, I am not saying the SEC is weak, but I am saying it is not as strong as the Big East. Why does the conference that the two schools play in matter? Conference affiliation matters because it affects Louisville’s recruiting. Why?
Since joining the Big East, Louisville goes after players from point guards to centers, who can compete in physical conference play. Rick Pitino also has a method to his recruiting in that he tries to alternate every other year between superstar class and a depth class (meaning loading up on 3-4 year players). Louisville recruits to their conference more than simply going after the top players at each position.
On the other hand, Calipari has the philosophy of accumulating, or stockpiling as Guy says, the best talent possible each year at each position of need. Will that overlap and result in some recruiting battles? Absolutely, but I’m not convinced it will happen every year with every recruit the teams go after. I’m even less convinced Calipari will completely dominate Pitino in that area as some of my Louisville brethren fear.
Another reason I am not concerned with Kentucky re-emerging is also related to conference affiliation. WE PLAY THEM ONCE A YEAR!!!! If Louisville loses, yes it sucks, especially if you have direct contact with an obnoxious Kentucky fan, but it only counts as one loss. If we win, great, I love it. In that case, I can go strait over to the aforementioned obnoxious Kentucky fan and run my mouth. But in the end, it only counts as one win.
I very much believe Kentucky being a top program helps Louisville. For starters, playing a good Kentucky team every year is a built in boost to strength of schedule, particularly if played in Rupp Arena. I generally think the RPI is garbage and makes no sense, but Louisville’s RPI goes up dramatically by playing a good Kentucky squad.
However, in my opinion, Kentucky being a top program helps Louisville in a less obvious way. This view point is based on the notion that a coach like Rick Pitino, who is as good as it gets regardless of whether Kentucky is great or terrible, will work so much harder to make sure he doesn’t get surpassed by Calipari. Pitino will not be sending Calipari a Christmas card anytime soon, unless it involves a picture of Pitino flipping Cal the bird, which would be hilarious. The point is, they don’t like each other and I’ll bet good money Pitino will not just sit by and let Calipari overtake him without a fight.
In short, I believe this has/will fire Slick Rick up. Naturally in public, Pitino will do his usual coach speak and downplay any skepticism. But I firmly believe he will do everything in his power to stay ahead or keep Louisville on no less than equal standing with Kentucky.
The notion of Rick Pitino being scared of Calipari is laughable to me, and is an indication that people grossly misunderstands the mindset of Pitino. Does Pitino like Calipari being an hour away? Nope.
Is Pitino excited about hearing or reading, on a much more frequent basis, things Calipari does or says? No way, Jose.
And most of all, does Pitino like the fact that he will no longer be the only slick talking Italian, former NBA head basketball coach who now coaches a top national powerhouse in the state of Kentucky? No chance, Lance.
But the thought of Pitino actually being scared, so scared that he would try to leave Louisville and take another job is ridiculous. Pitino will work harder, arrive earlier, stay later, and work his players harder now that he has stiff competition just an hour away.
So I say to all my Louisville brethren, do not fear Kentucky being good, but rather embrace it, man up, and accept the challenge. If Kentucky’s a top five team every year starting in 2009, good for them. But I implore you, do not take the attitude of, “well, our run’s over” or “guess we’re second best again”. Do not take this attitude because Rick Pitino will not.
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