The “Dream Game” is today. It began again in the 1983 Regional Final after taking a 24-year hiatus when the Cards and Cats met in Knoxville, TN. The two in-state rivals would play only 4 times after the 1921-22 season until the game was made a regular season home & home season between the two schools. It’s interesting to note that UofL and UK played twice in a matter of 4 days in 1922 with UK winning both matchups and neither team scoring more than 40 points. In the 4 matchups before the game was regularly scheduled all four were neutral site games: 1948 Olympic Trial, 1951 NCAA Tournament in Raleigh, 1959 NCAA Tournament in Evanston, and 1983 NCAA Tournament in Knoxville.
Why didn’t the two schools, both with rich traditions and 75 miles apart play one another? I don’t know, but here is some pre-game coverage from CBS that exhibits some of the frustrations on both sides leading up to the 1983 Regional Final in Knoxville:
In November of 1983 the two teams began a series that has been played every season home and away on a rotating basis. There have been some epic battles. Here is how I see each position for the game:
Point Guard: Peyton Siva vs. Marquis Teague
Siva: 9.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 6.4 ast, 3.5 to, 2.1 stl
Teague: 11.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.5 ast, 3.2 to, 1.5 stl
A lot has been made of this matchup already. First of all Peyton Siva finally made an appearance in the Georgetown game showing flashes of the player UofL fans have grown to depend on in critical situations. Before the GT game, Siva had been struggling to find his usual game. Marquis Teague has been settling in of late. Teague started the season like you might expect a freshman to start: forcing the game, giving the ball away, and frustrating the entire UK fanbase. However, Teague has definitely become more comfortable in John Calipari’s system. I don’t see Teague as strong of PG as Brandon Knight or John Wall, Teague is still an outstanding ball player in his own right and it’s unfair to compare him to those players.
Both teams run the offense through their point guard so this will be an important matchup to watch. Both players like to drive and create in the lane. I like Siva’s control and ability to create OVER Teague, but I trust Teague’s jumper over Siva’s (who’s jumper has seemingly disappeared). I have to give the edge to Siva in the defensive department. Siva has proven to shut down top level point guards throughout the Big East and I think Teague will struggle to blow by Siva side to side. Teague should be able to get space for his jump shot though.
I’m interested to see if Calipari decides to guard Siva with Teague. Last season DeAndre Liggins drew the assignment and neutralized Siva in the KFC Yum! Center. I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Kidd-Gilchrist draws this defensive assignment vs. Siva and Teague moves over to guard Chris/Russ Smith.
Shooting Guard Chris/Russ Smith vs. Doron Lamb
Chris Smith 9.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.9 ast, 0.8 to, 1.1 stl,
Russ Smith 10.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.9 ast, 1.8 to, 2.4 stl
Doron Lamb 15.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 ast, 0.8 to, 0.6 stl
All of the matchups are interesting in this game, so we can break it down later. But I think Doron Lamb is Kentucky’s Answer Man. It seems like every time the Cats get into trouble Lamb comes in and saves the day. Lamb is shooting 49.1% from 3-pt range, and has really improved his ability to drive to the rim. Doron is a special player.
Chris Smith is a steady player. He has a nice stroke, typically plays pretty decent defense, and is an excellent passer. He is really a smart basketball player, but this matchup with Lamb scares me as a UofL fan. Chris Smith drew the assignment against John Jenkins against Vanderbilt. Jenkins is a similar player to Lamb in body type and in skill set and against UofL Jenkins was an animal and went for 27 points while shooting 5-11 from 3-pt range. Louisville’s Achilles Heel all season has been defending the 3-pt shot, and Doron Lamb has the ability to fill it up, and if the defender comes out against him, he’ll just put it on the floor and go by.
That’s what makes Russ Smith the WildCard. Russ is taking on more of a role and is splitting time at the TWO pretty evenly as the season has progressed. Everyone notices Russ’ wild man mentality to shoot, and he’s slowly been earning Cards’ fans trust. But what I think a lot of people miss about Russ is how good of a man-to-man defender he his. I think Chris and Russ rotate the assignment on Lamb early on and I think whoever is doing the better job early gets the lionshare of the work. If I’m a Kentucky fan I’m hoping Russ Smith has an off day, because when he is on there isn’t a whirlwind I’ve seen like him. It’s also important to note that Russ Smith and Doron Lamb are very close friends.
If Kidd-Gilchrist gets the assignment for Siva instead of Teague, Lamb’s likely defensive assignment would be Kyle Kuric. I’ll discuss Kuric’s game below.
Small Forward Kyle Kuric vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist/Darius Miller
Kuric:13.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.2 ast, 1.5 to, 1.7 stl.
Kidd-Gilchrist: 13.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.2 ast, 2.3 to, 1.3 stl, 1.1 blk
Miller: 10.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.6 ast, 1.4 to, 1.0 stl
Between the starters of Kuric and Kidd-Gilchrist this has to be the “Most Likable Person” matchup. I could rave about the character of both of these individuals as PEOPLE for a long time. But instead I’m going to talk about the TOUGHNESS they both have as players. And get a little Darius Miller in too.
Last season, Kyle Kuric was forced to play Power Forward in the Big East conference thanks to the Cards losing both Jared Swopshire and Rakeem Buckles. At 6-4, 195 lbs. Kuric was able to put together an amazing junior season averaging 10.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg and was arguably the Cards most important piece. To play Power Forward in the Big East is tough enough, to play it at 6-4, 195 is beyond tough as most PF in the Big East are 6-8+, 240+. Still the Cards were able to finish 3rd in the league. Kuric’s game is sneaky. He’ll go hide in his corner and wait for the open ball, and then all of the sudden when you’ve gone to sleep on him he’s finishing a thunderous dunk. I’ve never seen such a patient player, almost too patient.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can really do it all and against Kuric he will have a size advantage at 6-7, 232 lbs. Kuric has seen players Kidd-Gilchrist’s size before, but few have seen players with the motor this kid plays with. There is an internal fire within MKG that is rare and he’s a pleasure to watch play. MKG is a fierce rebounder and the Cards are going to work hard to keep him off the glass. He also has a real knack for finding the right shot and doesn’t force what isn’t there. By far my favorite Wildcat.
It’s hard to believe that Darius Miller is a senior. Miller is a great shooter and will have size on Kuric as well. Off the bench (typically) Miller is an amazing luxury to have for John Calipari as Miller starts for 99% of the teams in college basketball.
Power Forward Chane Behanan/Rakeem Buckles vs. Terrence Jones
Behanan: 8.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 0.8 ast, 1.9 to, 0.9 stl
Buckles:5.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.0 ast, 1.0 to, 0.4 stl
Jones: 12.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.6 ast, 2.2 to, 1.1 stl, 2.1 blk
Here is a matchup that will be VERY interesting to take place. Terrence Jones is one game back from injuring his pinky, and 3 weeks away from his ego taking a major humbling vs. Indiana. Terrence Jones seems to be his own worst enemy and best friend feeding on whatever energy is available depending on how his own individual game is going. Personally, I think Jones needs to grow in the maturity department and do the small things when his shot isn’t falling and be a great teammate. He can’t have an off night and sulk and be no help to his teammates. The greatest players in the world have had off nights, what sets them apart is their attitude when things aren’t going their way, letting the game come to them, and being a good teammate. Jones has yet to master this despite being one of the most talented Wildcats in recent history. Jones can score inside, he has a nice mid range game, he can rebound, he can defend. What he hasn’t proven to be able to do is go to his left.
Chane Behanan is going to attempt to frustrate Jones early and often. Behanan is a TANK. Jones is not going to be able to back down Behanan in the post or intimidate him at all. Behanan is a relentless rebounder as well and is really adept at getting putbacks. He is also a great finisher around the basket and draws an incredible amount of fouls going to the rim. Jones is going to have to work hard to keep Behanan at bay, and Behanan can hold his own in the post. I think Jones’ mid-range game gives him the advantage here, but if his shot isn’t falling and this turns into an inside matchup I’m going with Chane.
But the matchup isn’t over. Rakeem Buckles has been back for 5 games and has played an increasing role since his return from an ACL injury. Buckles also missed the UK game last season with a spiral fracture on his right index finger, which forced Kyle Kuric to play Power Forward with one day of preparation. I’m betting that Buckles plays a healthy amount in this game in an attempt to tire and/or get Jones into foul trouble and get Kyle Wiltjer on the floor (I’ll discuss later).
Center Gorgui Dieng vs. Anthony Davis
Dieng: 10.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.4 ast, 1.8 to, 0.8 stl, 2.8 blk
Davis: 11.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.0 ast, 1.1 to, 1.4 stl, 4.5 blk
Neither team can afford to get their Center into foul trouble. The good news for the Cards and Cats is that both players have been able to stay clean in the foul department for the most part. The exceptions being games that both teams have lost (IU for UK, Georgetown for UofL).
Last season Gorgui Dieng didn’t appear to understand the game of basketball, or the rules. This season Dieng looks like a force to be reckoned with at 6-11, 235 Dieng is still as quick as ever, but is about 40 lbs bigger than his freshman season with more skill. As a result he is averaging a double double and a big part of them being 12-1.
Anthony Davis is probably the longest player in college basketball. And he’ll get his best matchup since the North Carolina & IU games. One stat that can’t be tracked between both Dieng and Davis is how many shots they both alter. Davis has the uncanny ability to get a lot of improbable shots, and Dieng does as well (to a lesser degree). Gorgui’s offensive game has been developing, he has developed some nice post moves (an up and under, and a nice little hook). He also is good catching the pass on his way to the basket and getting put backs. Anthony Davis is a little different. 3 years ago Anthony Davis was a guard, and he still possesses those guard skills in the post despite being unbelievably long. This is an impossible combination and one of the reasons why Davis is so special.
I’m EXTREMELY excited watching this matchup of bigs.
One of the strengths of this UofL team was supposed to be their deep bench. But with a host of injuries and a late arriving Kevin Ware the Cardinal depth has been limited. As it is, Peyton Siva, Kyle Kuric, and Dieng have become indispensable pieces to the puzzle for the Cardinals all of who play 30+ minutes per game. The only players not listed above that could end up playing some significant minutes are Jared Swopshire who could come into spell Kuric or Behanan/Buckles, and MAYBE Kevin Ware. Though I would think that Ware is not going to play significant minutes in Rupp Arena. Chris & Russ Smith could come in and play some PG if Siva gets into foul trouble. Out of favor is Elisha Justice who came in and played significant minutes a season before at PG. At the Center position Pitino has been going to Buckles as a backup rather than going down to freshman Zach Price. No word yet on when the Cards could get Van Treese back into the lineup.
Kentucky plays 6 players heavily, with 2 players seeing a decent amount of time. Teague is typically spelled by Lamb with Miller coming in. Lamb/MKG/Miller all can slide up or down a position. Jones can get displaced by Miller or MKG, but Calipari likes to mix in Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer has a REALLY nice offensive game. But he might be a greater defensive liability than his an offensive game. Eloy Vargas can come in a play for Davis in spot duty to get Davis a blow or if he is in foul trouble. He is not a major offensive threat, but can rebound and hold his own in the post.