The Commonwealth of Kentucky has an affection for basketball that stands alone in the world of sports here in America.
North Carolina and Indiana are a close 2nd, but the Tar Heels and Hoosiers both have an NFL and NBA franchise that we don’t. They both have classes to crown a champion for their various levels of high school basketball. Kentucky crowns only one champion for their high school basketball teams every March. In Kentucky, it’s said that you simply have to establish an allegiance to UK or U of L, and it’s also been said in some circles of sports nationally that if you are a native born Kentuckian you inherit a gene pool that raises your devotion to a certain level of commitment at birth to either the Kentucky Wildcats or Louisville Cardinals.
This Saturday is the day the entire Commonwealth puts everything on hold in their lives to settle bragging rights for their team for the next year. This week, even if you are a transplanted Kentucky resident or a citizen who has no interest in UK or U of L or basketball in general, you will still have to experience on some level what this game means to this state.
This year is a little more special than any of the past regular season games because the two programs have the last two NCAA championship trophies in Lexington and Louisville. If that’s not enough to add a little pep to the gumbo, the two schools entered the 2013-14 season as No. 1 and No. 2 in all respected preseason national polls. To add a little icing on the cake, John Calipari takes great pride in his successful recruiting of the elite high school athlete and getting a lot out of him in a short period of time. Rick Pitino, on the other hand, prides himself on taking the unfinished product out of high school (not all but many more than UK) and developing him over a longer period of time, yet getting the same results at the end of each season. This Saturday, Coach Cal will showcase the nation’s elite freshmen group tabbed as this year’s No. 1 recruiting class against Coach Pitino’s team which will consist of a rotation of eight or nine players, of which six are either seasoned juniors or veteran, tested seniors.
Both teams have slipped some since early November; Louisville has basically only had a hiccup loss to North Carolina on a neutral court. Kentucky on the other hand has had a slightly bigger drop off and that drop can be measured as only a small growing pain to complete fallout according to different opinions of the vast following of Big Blue Nation.
Louisville sits a little higher on the college basketball totem pole as we enter game week here in late December, but the game is in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena.
Bottom line is they’re both still in the top 15 in the polls, and Vegas still has them as two of only three teams with the highest odds to win the NCAA championship in March.
Like the column heading said, it’s Kentucky vs. Louisville, but let’s not be coy with each other. This game has turned into as much if not more about Pitino vs. Calipari whether anyone, especially the coaches, want to admit it or not. But that’s exactly what I’ve grown to love about this annual game more than anything.
They’re both darn good coaches in their own way, and a heck of a lot better than some of us in the media profess to be at our vocation.
Actually, it’s all kind of ironic anyway, because for those of you who are not yet in your elder years and old enough to remember when this series was forced to resume by political forces back in the 80s. In those days, UK was under the direction of Joe B. Hall and considered to be the ultra-conservative program and Louisville was under Denny Crum, whom Al McGuire tabbed as “Cool Hand Luke” on the sidelines. Crum was unique in his liberal ways of recruiting and running his program.
Any of those coaching traits sound familiar to you? It appears to me we’ve come full circle between Lexington and Louisville. Both schools even have their own adopted media personalities. UK has Matt Jones and Louisville has Terry Meiners.
The tip off for the game is set for 4 p.m. on CBS, but make sure you tune in to CBS around 3 p.m. You’ll be entertained by these two coaches as much as if not more than the game itself.
They are college basketball, and I’m so glad we have them both back and in our state. The NBA didn’t deserve them, and luckily didn’t sour or damage them in their love for basketball.
CBS special ‘Men of March’ this Saturday
Not only will the Commonwealth’s two flagship men’s college basketball teams be featured by CBS this Saturday, so will the leaders of each school’s basketball teams.
CBS will be kicking off a six-part series special on the Men of March one hour prior to the UK – U of L game Saturday that may be as interesting as the game itself, if you are true diehard fans of either the Cats or Cards. This one-hour special is a must to see, especially if you are an individual who is intrigued by the lavish lifestyle that the elite NCAA Div. 1 coaching fraternity lives on a daily basis.
The first of the six-part series will be concentrating on Rick Pitino and John Calipari. Each coach will have a 30-minute segment devoted to featuring their daily lives and what they consist of as the leader of two of college basketball’s most successful programs. Reports are that the 30-minute programs will show the viewer everything from what a day is like at home as well as the office and recruiting tactics, game day experiences, and actual practice and locker-room experiences.
Later on in the season CBS will feature coaches like Billy Donovan, Bill Self, and Tom Izzo, along with Shaka Smart of VCU and a few other successful NCAA Div. I coaches.