17 Reasons the Louisville Cardinals will upset the Kentucky Wildcats

Final 4 matchup UofL vs UKby Rich Nilsen

The Kentucky Wildcats have been sitting on the door of destiny for the past three seasons. Two years ago the team led by superstar guard John Wall was ripping through the 2010 NCAA brackets when they got derailed in the Elite 8 by a scrappy squad from West Virginia coached by Bob Huggins.  The final score 73-66 as the Mountaineers upset a Kentucky team that was 35-2 on the season.

Then, last season, a “new” Kentucky Wildcats team kept getting better and better as the year went long. Like the season before, they were dismantling teams in each round of the tournament until they were paired against the UCONN Huskies in the Final Four semifinals. Everyone with some level of basketball knowledge knew that this game was the real championship, as the winner appeared superior to Butler in the next game. A red-hot UCONN team pulled the mild but thrilling upset, defeating the Wildcats 56 to 55.

Fast forward another year and the Kentucky Wildcats are two games away from their first NCAA National Championship since 1998. Loaded top to bottom with five-star recruits and future first-round NBA draft picks, Kentucky simply looks too good for any of the three remaining teams – Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas. No team matches up with them at ANY position. Their five starters are better than whoever has to guard them in their next game.  The results – both Saturday and Monday – look inevitable.

So how could a team that lost to the Providence Friars by the jaw-dropping score of 90-59 have any chance against one of the finest teams we’ve seen in years? How could a team that loses to them nearly every year on New Year’s Eve have much of a fighting chance?

There are no less than 17 reasons why the Louisville Cardinals not only have a chance on Saturday evening but will “shock the world” with a huge upset of the overall #1 seed.

Reason #17: DEFENSE – The Louisville Cardinals have one of the best, if not the best, defense in the nation. Just ask the Florida Gators (possibly the hottest shooting team in the tournament) what happened when Louisville adjusted from a zone defense to man-to-man. Ask Draymond Green’s Michigan State who were held to 44 points in the third round, their lowest scoring total in the history of the tournament and one of the lowest scores ever by a team in the March tournament.

Reason #16: COACHING – Coach Cal is an excellent coach but a better recruiter. Everyone knows that when you give Rick Pitino time to prepare for a game, there is no one more dangerous in the game. That’s why he is 10-0 in Sweet Sixteen games lifetime. He is also undefeated in season rematches against Calipari, including 3-0 in post season play. To make matters worse, Coach Cal also has a history of losing tight games. Just ask the 2008 Memphis Tigers. Or last year’s Wildcats.

Reason #15: PRESSURE – The Kentucky Wildcats are playing with the weight of the Bluegrass State on their shoulders. They are expected to win, usually by a large margin. And a loss to the Cardinals would not just be any loss. It would be devastating to the Big Blue faithful. The Louisville Cardinals are not expected to win. Has anyone noticed how loose and amicable Rick Pitino has been over the past 2 weeks? We haven’t seen Pitino like this in years.

Reason #14: HUNGRY – The Louisville Cardinals are hungry for this win. They are not getting any respect despite winning the Big East tournament in impressive fashion, dismantling the likes of Michigan State, and reaching the Final Four on an eight-game winning streak.

Reason #13: BIG EAST DOMINANCE -Most college basketball fans agree that the Big East is the toughest conference in the land. It’s no coincidence then that UK has lost to Big East teams each of the last two years in the tournament. A loss to Louisville would extend that streak to three years.

Reason #12: TEAM UNITY – The Louisville Cardinals are playing like a fine tuned machine. There are no egos on this team. The players are unselfish, and when coupled with the coaching staff and leadership of Rick Pitino, that makes for a very dangerous unit. That’s why they are two games away from a National Championship title.

Reason #11: NO FLUKE – Louisville was ranked pre-season #4 in the entire country. The experts realized the talent this team had and the potential for a great season. The fact they are heading to New Orleans is no fluke.

Reason #10: HEALTH – The Cardinals have been banged up all season. They lost key players when Rakeem Buckles, Stephan Van Treese, Mike Mara, and top recruit Wayne Blackshear all went down to injury. Only Blackshear has returned and he is a minor player in the overall scheme for the Cardinals. When Louisville played UK back on December 31, they were not a healthy team. Yet they only lost by 7 points in Rupp Arena, a place when UK has won 51 games in a row and never lost under Coach Cal.

Reason #9: NEUTRAL COURT – UK got to play the first two games of the NCAA tournament at the Yum Center in front of a home crowd. Then they traveled to CATlanta, where again they got to take the court in front of stands covered in a sea of blue. They now have to share the Superdome with fans of three other schools that also travel very well. The home court edge is over for Kentucky.

Reason #8: UNDERDOG – Louisville has relished the underdog role. Pitino loves being the underdog. This team has a chip on their shoulder as they take on the “older” brother.

Reason #7: EXPERIENCE – Senior, Junior, Senior, Sophomore, Freshman. That is the starting lineup of the Louisville Cardinals. Contrast that with UK which plays a six-man rotation, three of whom are freshman and only one, senior Darrius Miller, has been around more than two years.

Reason #6: DEPTH – Speaking of the six-man rotation used by Calipari, Kentucky lacks any depth. Louisville can bring any number of guys off the bench – quality players like Jared Swopshire, Wayne Blackshear and Russ Smith. UK fans remember Smith well, as he put up 30 on the Cats on Dec. 31.

Reason #5: RESILIENCY – What makes tennis star Rafael Nadal so difficult to beat? Besides his crazy talent, it is the fact he never gives up. He gets balls other players don’t get. If he is down love-40 in a game, he comes back and wins it. The Louisville Cardinals demonstrated a similar level of resiliency in their game against the Florida Gators. Down double digits and in serious foul trouble with eight minutes to go, the Louisville defense shut down the red-hot Gators and, in a flash, were back in the game. Just as the comeback was commencing, star point guard Peyton Siva fouled out. But that didn’t deter the Cardinals. They won by four in a phenomenal comeback based on the dynamics of this game.

Reason #4: FAMILIARITY – The Cardinals have already seen the Wildcats this year, losing to them by seven points in hostile Rupp Arena on New Year’s Eve in front of a national TV audience. Ask the New York Giants if playing the New England Patriots during the 2011 NFL season (or the 2008 season for that matter) was an advantage to them. The losing team learns a lot more from the loss, than the winning team does from the victory.

Reason #3: LUKE HANCOCK – Who? Very few people outside hard-core Louisville fans realize that one of the best players on the team has been red-shirting all season long. The 6′ 6″ Hancock transferred from George Mason to Louisville last season but was forced to sit out the year. In two years at George Mason, Hancock was a star, hitting over 49% of his field goal attempts and leading George Mason to a thrilling upset win over highly ranked Villanova in last year’s NCAA tournament. Last year UK had the benefit of Enes Kanter (now a member of the Utah Jazz) participating in the daily workouts. This year, Louisville has the benefit of a top notch player who can play the opponent’s role in pre-game practices.

Reason #2: INTANGIBLES. Unwavering confidence. Intelligence. Senior leadership. Heart. Sometimes you just can’t quantify why a team is winning the way they are, except for intangibles.

And the #1 Reason the Louisville Cardinals will defeat the #1 Kentucky Wildcats:

THE RIVALRY. There is nothing more dangerous in sports to a heavy favorite than meeting one their hated rivals in a game they are expected to win. This is one of the biggest rivalries in the history of all sports. It’s the Red Sox – Yankees. The Celtics – Lakers. The Bears – Packers. It’s college basketball rivalries at it’s best.

Louisville fans are salivating at the chance of knocking off Kentucky in this Final Four game. Kentucky fans are praying that the dream of New Orleans doesn’t become a nightmare.

The fact is the Louisville Cardinals are not intimidated by their rival from 80 miles up the road.  They remember well the loss from three months ago. The Wildcats, on the other hand, may only recall a shadow of the team they will face on Saturday night.