Saturday Preview: #4 Louisville at #3 Kentucky

    
December 30th, 2011

The final day of 2011 features one of the most anticipated games of the college basketball season, a rivalry game that captivates an entire state and is one of the best games in college basketball. #4 Louisville (12-1), fresh off of a lost to Georgetown in their Big East opener, visits #3 Kentucky (12-1) in what should be a spirited battle at Rupp Arena. The Cardinals have played just one road game this season but it was also one of their best efforts as they won at Butler without the then-injured Peyton Siva. Kentucky's lone defeat also came at the hands of a ranked team, as the Wildcats fell at the buzzer at Indiana. 

One player who will definitely be a focus on Saturday is Kentucky sophomore forward Terrence Jones (12.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), whose scoring and rebounding averages are down from a season ago. But that isn't as big a deal as the last five games for Jones, as he missed two of them with a dislocated finger. In the other three games he scored a combined 13 points, and Jones also turned the ball over six times in the loss at Indiana. John Calipari has other players to call on up front, but that doesn't mean that the Wildcats want to find out (again) if they can win a big game without Jones being productive. 

Also inside for Kentucky is big man Anthony Davis (11.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.3 bpg), who is one of the toughest matchup in America due to his versatility. Davis is 6'10" but he can defend on the perimeter, as evidenced by his many blocks of three-point attempts. A virtual lock to be a lottery pick whenever he leaves Lexington, Davis runs the floor extremely well and has a good motor to go along with his many skills. Also of importance for Kentucky is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (13.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.2 apg), a wing who simply does whatever it takes to win. He's been the leader for this group, organizing the now-famous early morning workouts many team members now take part in. 

Louisville will counter with one of the most improved big men in the country in Gorgui Dieng (10.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 2.8 bpg), who has gone from a player Rick Pitino could only call on for spot duty to one of the coach's most important players. Dieng's most effective around the basket, so it's going to be interesting to see how he deals with Kentucky's mobile big men. Freshman Chane Behanan (8.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and veteran Rakeem Buckles complete the rotation for minutes inside with Jared Swopshire's minutes dropping in recent games. Kentucky's a slightly better rebounding team but Louisville does a better job of getting after the offensive boards with an average of 14.5 caroms per game. 

The guard play will likely determine the outcome especially for the visitors, as Louisville has struggled offensively in the half court. When they're forcing turnovers the Cardinals are a tough team to stop, as much of their offense comes as a result of the turnovers. But they weren't able to get enough fast-break chances against Georgetown, and they ultimately lost as a result. Siva (9.5 ppg, 6.4 apg) has dealt with injury issues, limiting his effectiveness for much of the season. Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric are the other starters on the perimeter, with Kuric being the Cardinals' most versatile player as he can play a variety of positions. And then there's redshirt freshman Russ Smith, who is second on the team in scoring and has the potential to be a handful for either team.

Sophomore guard Doron Lamb (15.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 apg) is Kentucky's leading scorer, and the New York native is a smooth player who rarely gets out of control. He and senior Darius Miller won't be of concern for Calipari as both have a good idea of what needs to be done on the floor. As for freshman Marquis Teague, who at one time was committed to attend Louisville, he can get out of control on occasion. Look for the Louisville pressure to attack Teague for this reason as he averages 3.1 turnovers to go along with 4.4 assists per game. As a team the Wildcats average 12.6 turnovers per game while Louisville forces an average of 17.4. Look for this statistical category to determine the outcome of the game. 

In other games Saturday there's a nice mix of conference and important non-conference games to take in. The Big Ten's got an important battle in Bloomington as Indiana hosts Ohio State with the home team looking to avoid an 0-2 start to conference play. The Buckeyes blew out Northwestern in their Big Ten opener while the Hoosiers fell at Michigan State in a game that featured big runs by both teams. The key for Indiana is to limit Jared Sullinger's impact on the game while also keeping Cody Zeller out of foul trouble. Two other conference games to watch are UConn hosting St. John's (Moe Harkless was originally a UConn commit) in the Big East and Milwaukee visiting Butler in the Horizon League.

As for another big non-conference game there's Xavier hosting Gonzaga, with the Musketeers looking to capitalize on being a full team with the return of Dezmine Wells to the lineup. And given their 1-2 record at the Diamond Head Classic this game could be key for Xavier from an NCAA Tournament seeding standpoint. Gonzaga's going to need consistent play from Elias Harris on the road, and he may be the key to a long run in March for Mark Few's squad. Harvard taking on Saint Joseph's is another good non-conference game for the Atlantic 10, and the battle between C.J. Aiken and Harvard's Keith Wright will be fun to watch. 

Virginia Tech visits Oklahoma State in a game that would likely have a bigger effect on the Hokies should they lose given the Cowboys' play this season and the struggles of many ACC teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule. And there's also a critical game in the MVC as Creighton visits Wichita State, needing a win to avoid an 0-2 start to league play. The Pac-12 will cap 2011 with all 12 teams playing conference games, with UCLA visiting Cal in a game that the Bruins needs to avoid an 0-2 start to league play. And just as the ball is dropping in Times Square, Oregon and Washington should be wrapping up the final game of 2011. Happy New Year.  

Top 25 Games
6:00 PM (2) Ohio State at (15) Indiana (ESPN2)
12:00 PM (4) Louisville at (3) Kentucky (CBS)
12:00 PM St. John's at (9) Connecticut (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Yale at (10) Florida (ESPNU)
1:00 PM Iowa at (11) Wisconsin (BTN)
2:00 PM Providence at (12) Georgetown (ESPN2)
3:00 PM Utah State at (14) Mississippi State
3:00 PM (17) Michigan State at Nebraska (BTN)
4:00 PM North Dakota at (18) Kansas (ESPNU)
6:00 PM (19) Creighton at Wichita State (ESPNU)
8:00 PM (20) UNLV at Hawaii
4:00 PM Saint Joseph's at (23) Harvard
2:00 PM Howard at (25) Kansas State (ESPN3)

NCAA Division I Games
12:00 PM Virginia Tech at Oklahoma State (ESPN3)
12:00 PM Saint Francis (PA) at Drexel
12:00 PM Austin Peay at Morehead State (ESPNU)
12:00 PM Boston University at Quinnipiac
12:00 PM USC Upstate at South Carolina (ESPN3)
1:00 PM Mississippi Valley State at Iowa State (ESPN3)
1:00 PM Virginia-Wise at East Carolina
1:00 PM Colgate at New Hampshire
1:00 PM Presbyterian at VMI
1:00 PM Lehigh at Bryant
1:05 PM Bradley at Indiana State
2:00 PM Idaho at Boise State
2:00 PM Wright State at UIC (HLN)
2:00 PM FIU at Western Kentucky (FCS)
2:00 PM Samford at Maryland (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Western Carolina at North Carolina State (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Holy Cross at Dartmouth
2:00 PM Arkansas-Pine Bluff at New Mexico State
2:00 PM Rice at Texas (LHN)
2:00 PM Tulane at UT-Pan American
2:00 PM Youngstown State at Cleveland State (HLN)
2:00 PM St. Francis (NY) at Army
2:00 PM Chicago State at Ball State
2:00 PM Cornell at Bucknell
2:00 PM Milwaukee at Butler (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Tennessee State at Eastern Kentucky
2:00 PM Lyon College at Lamar
2:00 PM Hartford at La Salle
2:00 PM Charleston Southern at Liberty
2:00 PM Detroit at Loyola (IL) (HLN)
2:00 PM Southern Miss at McNeese State
2:00 PM Gardner-Webb at Radford
2:00 PM Louisiana Tech at SMU
3:00 PM Alabama A&M at UAB
3:00 PM Delaware State at George Washington
3:00 PM Northwestern State at Oklahoma
3:05 PM Drake at Missouri State
3:30 PM Albany at Mount St. Mary's
3:30 PM South Alabama at Middle Tennessee (ESPN3)
4:00 PM UCLA at California (FSN)
4:00 PM Troy at North Texas
4:00 PM Houston Baptist at Duquesne
4:00 PM Illinois at Purdue (ESPN2)
4:00 PM Sacramento State at Weber State
4:00 PM UNC Asheville at Winthrop (MASN)
4:30 PM Jacksonville State at SIU-Edwardsville
5:00 PM Arkansas State at Louisiana-Monroe
5:00 PM Tennessee Tech at Tennessee-Martin
5:05 PM Green Bay at Valparaiso Tickets
5:15 PM Florida Atlantic at Louisiana-Lafayette
5:30 PM Arizona State at Arizona (FSN AZ)
6:00 PM Utah at Colorado (ROOT)
6:00 PM Saint Louis at New Mexico (The Mtn)
6:00 PM San Diego at Brigham Young (BYU TV)
6:00 PM Oregon State vs. Washington State* (ROOT)
6:00 PM Arkansas-Little Rock at Denver
6:00 PM Saint Mary's at Pepperdine
6:30 PM USC at Stanford (FSN W)
7:00 PM Coastal Carolina at High Point
7:00 PM Tulsa at TCU (CBSSN)
8:00 PM Loyola Marymount at San Francisco
8:00 PM Gonzaga at Xavier (ESPN2)
9:00 PM Charlotte at Memphis (CSS)
9:35 PM Northern Arizona at Northern Colorado
10:00 PM Oregon at Washington (ESPN2)