Friday, March 28, 2014

Louisville & Kentucky is the Premier Rivalry in College Basketball

I concur with Eric Crawford:
It is the premier rivalry in college basketball today. When Louisville and Kentucky meet in Indianapolis Friday night, it'll be for a berth in the NCAA's Elite Eight.

But this rivalry, in college basketball, is the Elite One.

Don't give me Duke-North Carolina. Yes, they're protected from early tournament meetings by their conference affiliation. But not once have they managed to play their way to an NCAA Tournament meeting.

There was a time I'd have listened to an argument about Indiana-Kentucky. They had a great tournament meeting two years ago, a 102-90 UK win. But the teams no longer play, and you can't have a rivalry if you don't play. This year, Indiana, the state, is relegated to host role while neighbors, Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan, even Tennessee descend on Lucas Oil Stadium.

North Carolina and Duke are at home. Kansas and Wichita State are at home. Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, all at home. Michigan and Michigan State can't meet until the title game. When they met in the Big Ten Tournament championship game nine days ago, it was the first time they'd ever played each other on a neutral court, in their 170th meeting. They've never met in the NCAA Tournament.
Friday's game will be the sixth post-season get-together in series history for Kentucky and Louisville, and it will be the second in three years.

That will tie the rivalry for third-most frequent NCAA Tournament pairing of all time. Some might say the NCAA is picking on the state. UK beat Western Kentucky and Louisville on its way to the 2012 title. The year before that Louisville fell to Morehead State. Two years prior, U of L beat Morehead State in its opening game. That's four out of the past six years that the committee has placed teams from Kentucky into each other's path. Check the brackets. You won't see North Carolina or Duke playing a team from their state during that time, nor Michigan and Michigan State.

This is The Rivalry, period: One regular season meeting, postseason showdowns in two of the past three years. The rest can take a seat for now.

Write it down.

It's not inappropriate that these two should see each other, however.

They're the winners of the past two national championships. One is a completely remade team. One is a team that had to redefine itself after winning the title a year ago.

Would it have been fitting to play one round later? Maybe. But like in golf, you have to play it where it lands.

It lands here.

These teams are coached by the two preeminent coaches in the game today.

Both men have recent back-to-back Final Fours. Both have won eight straight NCAA Tournament games.

A win for Pitino would make him the winningest active NCAA Tournament coach by percentage, pushing him past Mike Krzyzewski. If you count only on-the-court results, a win for Calipari would put him at No. 1 among active coaches. Vacated victories, however, keep that from being recognized by the NCAA.

Pitino won his 50th NCAA Tournament game last week. Calipari ended the bid of the first 35-0 team in NCAA history with a win over Wichita State a day later.

Nobody is representing the traditional college model at the moment with more success than Pitino. Nobody is taking elite Players from Point A to Point B, with Point B being the NBA, better than Calipari.

For more:
1983 Dream Game: Louisville vs. Kentucky in the Elite 8
UK vs. UofL: The Battle For the Bluegrass 2012 
"The Year of the Cardinal" Documentary
March Madness Has Arrived
Louisville Basketball Honored By President Obama
An Epic Video of the National Champion Cards
2013 National Championship: Louisville vs. Michigan
College Basketball At Its Finest: Louisville Wins a National Championship
Rick Pitino Outcoached Coach K    
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