Maybe the Mayans were right. 2012 is the conclusion of civilization as we know it. As far as the college basketball landscape in the Bluegrass State goes, the End of Days may as well get here because we will never see anything like we’ve seen in this NCAA tournament. The stage is set for UK and Louisville to meet in the Final Four in New Orleans.
The UK faithful may be quick to point out the Wildcats had a subpar effort in the annual rivalry game against UofL in December but still came away with a 69-62 win. Make no mistake: this is not the same Cardinal team that visited Lexington on New Year’s Eve. This isn’t even the same Louisville team that looked wildly inconsistent in February, but made a run right to the Big East championship in March.
The Louisville fan base would surely argue those points …but a word to the wise: this isn’t the same UK team you saw in December, either. That was a freshman laden team that had played all of 13 regular season games together against some lower-caliber competition (aside from IU, Kansas and North Carolina).
Vegas oddsmakers penciled in Kentucky as a 9-point favorite over Louisville even before the final horn sounded in UK’s Elite Eight matchup with Baylor. Granted, the game appeared to be over by the mid-point of the first half. Other prop bets this week from Vegas: Over/under on combined points vs. bar fights in Jefferson County Saturday night as well as the number of uses of “Blue Orleans” and “Lou Orleans” by local media leading up to the Final Four.
Overall, Kentucky has better athletes and better talent. It’s just a fact (unless you want to weigh in with comparisons between Jarrod Polson and Tim Henderson. There’s probably room for debate there). That said, Louisville’s defense and perimeter shooting can nullify that. Every time this month we’ve said, “UofL is completely outmatched,” they laugh and leave the court with a win. They’ve knocked off one number one seed on their way to the Final Four. Now comes the Cardinals chance to knock off THE number one seed.
The matchup between UK and UofL in the Final Four is going to go down as one of the top events in the rivalry, no doubt. Some Cardinal fans even contend this could be bigger than UofL’s 1980 and 1986 title games. That’s how antagonistic it’s become here in the Commonwealth. The national media talks ad nauseum about Duke-North Carolina but now the spotlight will shine brightly on what has become the most bitter rivalry in college sports. For better or worse.