Old men fighting during their dialysis treatment after getting into an argument about Louisville and Kentucky. Resteraunts and bars, usually neutral, choosing sides and inviting only blue or red fans for the game so fights don’t breakout. They will elsewhere I guess. Nothing like alcohol and good old-fashioned inner-state rivalry to get things going on. Meeting in the Final Four? Even better.
They always say that North Carolina is the basketball state, especially when it comes to College Basketball. Duke vs UNC always stands a bit above the rest of pretty much every professional and collegiate rivalry in the United States. Wildcats vs Cardinals? Usually ranks around 3rd or 4th among college basketball pundits.
Rivalries matter to those who live in the place. It might not be a national affair every time, but just like Auburn and Alabama is a world war despite Ohio State and Michigan getting the national vote for biggest rivalry, it’s the same for the one between the Cardinals and the Wildcats. And now, for the first time, a final four game, sending the frenzy level through the roof.
Like every good rivalry, especially in a state with no professional teams (The Kentucky Derby doesn’t count, I guess), economic and social issues helps in the divide. Two teams that play in NBA kind of arenas, paying NBA kind of money to their head coaches and charge ticket prices in accordance. Dead serious about this game would be an understatement.
Because Kansas and Ohio State is just a basketball game between two very good team. Louisville and Kentucky? Much more than that. Not because the Cardinals are clear underdogs against one of the most talented groups in College Basketball for quite some time. Not because of the rivalry between Rick Pitino and John Calipari. It all helps, but it’s a matter of hate way beyond the basketball court that makes this into such an intriguing semi final.
They’ve already met once this season, and Kentucky won 69-62. John Calipari, in his third year as the head coach with the Wildcats, making his third final four in four years, has yet to lose to Louisville since choosing to coach for Blue. It’d be tragic, or fantastic to others, if he loses his first now.
Louisville haven’t beaten Kentucky since 2009, and in general are way behind in the all time record, 14-29. Kentucky lead the all-time records with 52 NCAA tournament appearances and 102 tournament wins. Not really fair, like it might turn out to be on the court when the two teams enter the Dome in New Orleans. Kentucky have too much talent on paper, too much for everyone else so far in the tournament.
But these rivalry games have weird scripts attached to them. Calipari spoke about none of his players actually being from Kentucky. He doesn’t think it should affect them. I wonder how it’ll turn out after a week’s full of media attention revolving around the matter. Upset in the air? I’m sure Pitino has some traps and zones ready for the occasion. I just don’t see them working. It’s a blue year.