Kentucky must win its state before it claims the national crown.
John Calipari’s crew was expected to be New Orleans-bound – anything less would’ve been a colossal disappointment. But a hurdle that wasn’t highly anticipated to be in their lane to an NCAA Championship is their hated in-state rival: the Louisville Cardinals.
Louisville has proved that winning the Big East Tournament isn’t a bad thing anymore. What was once labeled as a physically draining tourney now looks like the most effective momentum fuel in college basketball. After UConn cut down the nets in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments last season, Louisville is well on their way to duplicating the Huskies’ postseason success.
Rick Pitino and company knocked out the scorching Florida Gators on Saturday by the score of 72-68 to lock up a trip to NOLA. Only Baylor stands in the Wildcats’ way of joining their Kentucky competition. If KT takes care of business in the Elite Eight, though, they’ll continue their celebration through the Final Four.
Louisville is a phenomenal team, but they don’t possess the individual talent to go toe-to-toe with a Wildcats squad that’s clicking on all cylinders. Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis combine to form the most talented starting five in the entire country. Comparatively, if a single Louisville player is drafted into the NBA this summer, it’d be a surprise.
It isn’t like the upset-hungry Cardinals have been forced to travel the most treacherous road to the Final Four either. Sure, they dethroned one-seeded Michigan State, but Louisville dodged No. 2 Missouri and No. 3 Marquette thanks to Norfolk State and Florida.
In the Cats and Cards’ only meeting of the regular season on December 31st, Kentucky came out on top 69-62. Expect the result to be the same when the two clubs face off three months later on March 31st.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.