By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
Last Saturday in Chicago, Coach Calipari’s Cats held the upper hand over Roy Williams’ Tarheels in the CBS Sports Classic. The Cats’ effort was strong for the full 40 minutes as they controlled the boards and held a high scoring North Carolina group to only 72 points in a game played at an elevated pace of 83 possessions. Clearly, this game signaled UK’s return to the 2018-19 championship conversation.
How will the Cats respond to this good fortune when they make the 90-mile trip west to take on a resurging Louisville Cardinal program under first year coach Chris Mack? We will find out on this afternoon when the 2018 version of the Cats and the Cards occurs in the YUM center.
Yes, Cats – Cards; 2018.
Suffice it to restate the obvious; these programs do not like one another, and that itself is an understatement of huge proportion. Last year’s edition of this intra-state war was a transition battle from the Calipari-Pitino battle field when the Cards were led by one year interim coach Padgett. This year this war moves into a new Era (Calipari-Mack) as Chris Mack puts his stamp on the Louisville basketball program. From 2001 through the 2017 season, Pitino earned a 2-4 edge over Tubby Smith.
Pitino’s fortunes against the Wildcats changed after Tubby left Kentucky, 2-0 against the ill-fated Billy Gillispie, and 2-8 against Coach Calipari. Final record: 6-12. Coach Crum, who ushered in the Cats and Cards war in 1983 for the Cards finished his coaching career with a 7-13 records against the Cats. On Saturday, the Cards will start the Mack Era of this rivalry against the Cats.
The beginning of the Mack Era is not the only unique aspect of this year’s encounter. For the second consecutive season, neither team has played well enough to rank in the top 10, efficiency based, at the time of their meeting. Prior to last year when this occurred, the last such encounter had been during the 2006-7 season when both teams were still ranked in the top 20, if not the top 10. This year’s encounter will feature two teams ranked outside the top 20.
The Cards’ twelve games have seen six opponents ranked in the top 60 and 5 of those opponents are in the top 40 (ANE). The Cards’ schedule to date has been relatively strong with a SOS value of +.0370 ppp (#84). The Cards have lost to #15 Tennessee by 11 and to #37 Marquette by 3 in OT on neutral courts, and at #21 Indiana by 1. The Cards won at #59 Seton Hall by 5, and at home against #33 Lipscomb by 4 and #5 Michigan State by 4.
The Cats’ schedule has been weaker, with three opponents out of eleven in the top 60 and two opponents in the top 40. The Cats lost to #1 Duke and to #59 Seton Hall on neutral courts and defeated #10 North Carolina also on a neutral court. The Cats’ schedule to date has had a SOS value of -0.0167 ppp (#229).
The Cards enter this game ranked #26 (ANE) with an ANE of 0.204 ppp and a 9-3 record and the Cats will suit up ranked #31 (ANE) with an ANE of 0.186 ppp and a 9-2 record.
This season, the home court advantage provides the Cards a 5-point pregame advantage, 78-73, in a game played at a pace of 71 possessions. This would produce game efficiencies of 1.023 ppp and 1.093 ppp for the Cats and Cards, respectively. Pomeroy sees this game in the Cats’ favor by 1 point, 74-73 at a pace of 68 possessions.
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