By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
Yes, Cats – Cards; 2019.
On Saturday in Las Vegas, Coach Calipari’s Cats played from behind for almost the entire game against #1 Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic. The Cats’ effort was among the stronger performances of the season, and extended for the full 40 minutes. Clearly, this game signaled UK’s ability to compete against the best of the best that 2019-20 college basketball has to offer, which reinforces the Cats’ season opening win over #5 Michigan State by 7 in Madison Square Garden. However, these Cats have two ugly blemishes on the face of their record through the first 1/3 of this season, losing at Rupp to #204 Evansville at Rupp by 3 and to #107 Utah in Las Vegas.
For the third consecutive season, UK will enter this grudge match ranked outside the top 10, currently #39 (ANE). However, unlike the last two years which saw the Cards also outside the top 10, this year the Cards bring a #7 ranking (ANE) into this grudge match, which will be played on the Cats’ home court, Rupp Arena.
Overall, the Cats hold a commanding 36-16 advantage over the Cards, and During the Calipari Era, the Cats have dominated this rivalry 10-2. How will the Cats respond to the challenge this year when the Cards put their #7 ranking on the line on Saturday afternoon when the 2019 version of the Cats and the Cards occurs at Rupp.
Suffice it to restate the obvious; these programs do not like one another, and that itself is an understatement of huge proportion. Last year marked the transition of this intrastate war from the Calipari-Pitino battle field to the Calipari-Mack battle ground. Calipari holds a 1-0 advantage in this war over Coach Mack.
The 2019-20 season continues this rivalry with game 2 of the Calipari-Mack Era. For each of the last 2 seasons, neither UK nor UL were in the top 10 at the time of this game. This year, the Cats have an 8-3 record and the Cats are coming off back to back losses to Utah and Ohio State. As a consequence, UK finds itself outside the top 10 for this rivalry game for the third season in a row. UL, on the other hand, enters this game with an 11-1 record and #7 ranking (ANE). This year, the Cats will enter this annual grudge match as the nation’s 39th most efficient team and Louisville will enter Rupp Arena as the nation’s 7th most efficient team.
Neither of these factors make this rivalry any less vitriolic. The Cards have played 12 games, 9 of them at the Yum Center, two on a neutral court, and one true road game at Miami FL in their season opener. The Cards have lost one time, to #52 Texas Tech (Upcoming UK Opponent) by 13 on a neutral court. The Cards most impressive win this season has been over #14 Michigan by 15 points at the YUM Center. In addition, the Cards and Cats have faced one common opponent this season. The Cards defeated #320 EKU by 32 while the Cats defeated #320 EKU by 42. The Cats have played 8 of their 11 games at home, and three on neutral courts. The Cats have lost three times, to #204 Evansville at Rupp by 3, to #107 Utah in Las Vegas, and to #1 Ohio State by 6 also in Las Vegas. The Cats’ most impressive win was by 7 points over #5 Michigan State on a neutral court.
The #7 Cards are 11-1 while the #39 Cats are 8-3. The Cats raw defensive efficiency is 0.876 ppp, which is a significant improvement over the 0.956 ppp last year and 0.954 ppp two years ago. Louisville’s is 0.883 ppp, which is significantly lower than last year’s 0.967 ppp or the 0.927 ppp defensive efficiency UL brought into this game two seasons ago. The Cats’ offense 1.066 ppp is very weak when compared to the standards established during the Calipari Era, which has usually been stronger than the UL Offensive Efficiency leading into this grudge match.
However, UL’s offense this season has been stronger at 1.146 ppp. The Cards and Cats have played very similar schedule strengths leading to this encounter. The Cats schedule value is -0.013 ppp while UL’s schedule value is -0.012 ppp. Pomeroy rates this game in the Cards’ column by 1 point, 66-65 while the BBF4UK ANE method gives a 2-point edge to the Cards despite the Cats’ home court advantage this season, 69-67 at a tempo of 69 possessions.
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