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Is it Saturday Yet? A Few Thoughts Ahead of Game Day

March 30, 2012
1983 Mid East Regional

Not since 1983 has so much ridden on a meeting of Kentucky's two biggest college basketball programs.

As what feels like the longest week in the history of time finally starts to funnel into the Kentucky-Louisville Final Four game tomorrow night, I still can’t decide whether I’m proud of or disappointed in my state for keeping its collective head together for the past five days.

On Tuesday of this week, I sort of assumed that by now we would in real dogs and cats living together-style chaos from Paducah to Pikeville. That afternoon a couple of gentlemen from Georgetown tried to get the ball rolling by getting in a fight over the game at a dialysis clinic – while one of them was hooked to the machine.

Since then, however, silence. Instead of fans losing their minds, it seems like it’s been the national media having a nervous breakdown, not so much over who wins Saturday and again on Monday in the national championship game. According to grantland.com alone, the win could mean anything from the end of college basketball as we know it to a victory for the old beauty of college basketball over the rough it up game we’ve all come to know and despise.

The best exchange I heard came yesterday between Colin Cowherd and Andy Katz, both of ESPN. Cowherd picked Louisville to beat Kentucky, which led Katz to shout “What? Why?” as Cowherd started his explanation. Cowherd decided that Kentucky would be “tight” based on the way they played at Indiana. Never mind that Kentucky was playing three freshman starters who were playing on the road for the first time in just the ninth game of their college careers.

Of course, Cowherd’s tweaking of Kentucky and its fans is well documented. He once called Kentucky fans “meatballs” on air (leading to the easiest two hours of radio I’ve ever done, so I guess I owe him a thank you), and questioned John Wall’s leadership ability based on him not having a strong father figure in his life…then immediately touted LeBron James in opposition – even though James grew up without his father in his life. (James subsequently quit on the Cavaliers in the playoffs, then quit Cleveland in general, then no showed late in the NBA Finals after taking his talents to South Beach).

Maybe there is something to the idea that Kentucky has more pressure on it to win the title than the other three teams in the Final Four. The thinking goes that they have the best talent remaining and that they’ve been the favorite all year. They may well have the best talent left. I’m not enough of a talent scout to say, but when Kentucky beat North Carolina in Week 8 they were only ranked third in the country. They received four first place votes in the AP poll in the week leading into that game. Who was second (with five votes)? Ohio State. Were the Buckeyes overranked early? Have they failed to reach expectations? Do they have any pressure to win in New Orleans?

It says a lot about the UK-U of L rivalry and the rejuvenation of the Kentucky brand under Calipari that Saturday’s late game has become a weeklong footnote outside of the Ohio State and Kansas fan bases.

For what it’s worth, I agree that there is a little more pressure on Calipari to win this championship than there is on the other coaches. He does have what appears to be the best overall talent, and his recruiting philosophy that lends itself to having a large number of players who leave after one year (which I have no problem with) does lead to an all or nothing feeling each year for fans who still value a national title over a team’s number of NBA Draft selections.

Unlike last week when I thought I might throw up before the Regional round, I’m completely calm about Saturday. I know Louisville is one of the hottest teams in the country. I know it’s a rivalry. But I also know that there is not a single position at which I’d take Louisville’s player over the Kentucky player that will take the court opposite them. That’s good enough for me

Bracket Update

The only thing left to be decided from my bracket experiment is whether or not the Kenpom bracket will win the Bracket Challenge I entered them all in. It’s sitting at 95.1% nationally and if Kentucky beats Ohio State in the title game Monday night, Kenpom’s dominance as a team ranking system will be unquestioned.

Programming Note

NewsRadio 630 WLAP in Lexington will begin Final Four coverage Saturday at noon. Ryan Lemond will be on from noon to 2 pm with Stan Norfleet. I’ll join Leland Conway and Cameron Mills for an expanded Kennedy’s Wildcat Den Wildcat Preview from 2-4 and Big Blue Network coverage takes over from there. You can join us on 630 AM in Lexington at wlap.com or on the iheartradio app on iPhone, Android and Blackberry.

And of course, I will be back — win or lose…or win. How about win? — on First State Financial Sunday Morning Sports Talk with Kyle Macy from 9 am-Noon on Sunday.

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