March 25, 2014

The "other" game in Indianapolis

Michigan fans are locked in on the Friday night showdown between the Wolverines and Tennessee's Volunteers. But there's another clash going on, one that will help pack Lucas Oil Stadium and drive up ticket prices on the secondary market.

Defending national champion Louisville and archrival Kentucky tip off shortly after the Michigan-Tennessee game, at around 9:45 p.m. on CBS. That one will pull basketball-crazed Kentuckians north by the wagonload.

Howie Lindsey, managing editor of CardinalSports.com, part of Rivals.com, takes a look at the second in a pair of monumental match-ups in Indianapolis, and has a word or two about a potential Louisville-Michigan rematch as well.

Here's Lindsey…

On the fever pitch involved in the Louisville-Kentucky contest: "It is going to be a monster game. I think back to the times Louisville and Kentucky have played in the regular season, and just how wild those games can be.

"Here in Kentucky, we had a fight between old men at a dialysis clinic over this rivalry. To think of that times 10, because it's in the NCAA Tournament … the intensity just ratchets up.

"Rick Pitino has always said during those regular-season meetings that it is not as important, because there is not a tangible prize afterwards. He said the one that actually hurt was the 2012 game, when Kentucky beat Louisville in the Final Four.

"There is a prize after this one. That means it's going to hurt. Whoever loses this one, it's going to be a long drive back down 65."

On the teams in Indianapolis affecting ticket sales at Lucas Oil Stadium: "Oh, it's going to be unbelievable. You've got two of the biggest basketball fan bases in the country, regularly in the top five in attendance. Both averaged more than 20,000 fans per home game.

"All 40,000 of those fans are trying to get into this game, make no mistake about that. Plus, you've got the last two national champions, squaring off on the court in an NCAA Tournament game. Even if they weren't rivals, that would be a big story."

On the impression that Kentucky's feared recruiting class is coming together after a very inconsistent regular season: "Prior to the win over Wichita State, their best win of the season was against Louisville [73-66], back in December. And actually, they probably regressed after that.

"They didn't look as good down the stretch as they did against Louisville in that game. That's the one win they actually hung their hat on. Frankly, it's the one win that got them any kind of a decent seed.

"Can they do it again? How different is Louisville? How different is Kentucky? Certainly, Kentucky is playing a lot different now. But I think Louisville is too."

On what happened when Kentucky took down Louisville the first time around: "Louisville's bigs didn't have a particularly good game. Montrezl Harrell was outrebounded, and didn't have as strong of a game.

"But I think it really came down to shooting. Louisville's star shooters, Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, were 10 of 31. You're just not going to win.

"Hancock is a much better shooter than that. He just got bothered in that game, had an off shooting night. Given Kentucky some credit for that, but Louisville didn't shoot well."

On how Louisville is playing right now: "The common answer is to say Louisville didn't play well in its first two [NCAA Tournament] rounds. I don't believe that to be true. They ran into a Manhattan team that knew every set they were going to run, where every play was going. They were calling out who was going to get the ball at the end of the play, because they run all the exact same sets, the same defenses.

"And they were scrappy. I don't put a whole lot of stock in the score of that game. Then you look at the next game, and yes, it's easy to say Louisville didn't put on a dominating performance, but nobody dominates St. Louis.

"They played Wichita State, Wisconsin, N.C. State, Dayton … a whole bunch of good teams, and nobody beat them as bad as Louisville beat them. That 15-point margin was their worst loss of the season, and Louisville held them to their lowest point total since 2011.

"Any way you cut that, it's a better win than people are giving them credit for."

On whether Louisville is as equipped as last year's crew to make the Final Four: "No. I don't think they are. That's what's wild about this coaching job by Rick Pitino. He lost four of his top eight players, including two NBA Draft picks in Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng.

"Then you lose Chane Behanan, then you lose Kevin Ware. You've lost four out of your top eight from a national championship team. You don't go back to the Final Four when you lose four out of your top eight, including three starters. You just don't do that.

"That's what makes this run for Louisville remarkable. They're one of the favorites to make it back there, and it's just on the sheer will of Rick Pitino and good young talent."

On how he expects the Friday night showdown to play out: "I think it's going to be just tension-filled, drama, every possession. Shocks and gasps and screams … that's just the way it is, in Louisville-Kentucky games.

"Anybody who watches ESPN too much will think that Duke and North Carolina is the best rivalry in college basketball. It's not. It's not even close. Louisville and Kentucky is the best."

On his thoughts, should Michigan and Louisville come out of Friday nights games victorious, setting up a rematch of last year's national title contest: "Here's what's funny about it. I host a radio show down here, and I gave people a pass. Essentially, it was a 'get out of my bracket' pass. They could give it to any team that they thought would be in the tournament, because the bracket hadn't come out yet. They were saying, essentially, 'We don't want to see this team again.'

"Michigan got a lot of passes - a lot of passes. What's crazy is, Michigan got a lot, Kentucky got a lot, Arizona got a lot and Florida got a lot. Those are the four teams, probably, in Louisville's path, if they're going to make it all the way.

"Michigan is one of those teams … they've got great offense. That's trouble for Louisville."

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