Sports fans love rivalries. They get the juices going a little more than most games, because they involve that one team we all want to beat the most. When the teams meet, you can feel it – and that’s true whether you’re at the game or talking about it with people. From Red Sox-Yankees right down to Duke-North Carolina or Ohio State-Michigan, rivalries help fuel sports at every level.
Enter Kentucky-Louisville, which is arguably the best rivalry in college basketball right now – and takes center stage.
Duke-North Carolina is perhaps the foremost rivalry in college basketball. The success of the schools and the proximity are big reasons for it, and the stage has grown over the years. I have long said that only Red Sox-Yankees tops it in the world of sports rivalries, and admit to perhaps being a bit biased there because I am a Red Sox fan.
But from time to time, other rivalries are better for a stretch. Red Sox-Yankees didn’t register to a lot of Boston fans in the 1980s, when both teams stunk for much of the decade; Bruins-Canadiens was bigger for the average Boston sports fan. Lakers-Celtics hardly mattered for much of the 90s to most Boston fans. Right now, Kentucky-Louisville is bigger and better in the college game. The two schools have won national championships more recently than either Duke or North Carolina, they have faced off in the Final Four recently, the coaches are long-time rivals and Rick Pitino has coached (and won national championships) at both schools, and it was already a pretty well-established rivalry in the first place.
On Saturday, they meet again at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Both teams are undefeated thus far, which only adds to the significance. Kentucky has been much-talked about for obvious reasons, and this is one more challenge for them. For Louisville, this will be by far their toughest challenge yet. Yes, the Cardinals turned back both Ohio State and Indiana earlier in the month, but the jury is out on just how good both are right now. In other words, we’re about to start finding out just how good Louisville is, too, and this game will be one measuring stick.
But this isn’t just significant beyond the rivalry aspect for Kentucky. While the Wildcats have certainly been tested thus far, having knocked off Kansas, Providence, Texas, North Carolina and UCLA – all in pretty impressive fashion and none by less than 12 points – they haven’t played a true road game yet. Saturday’s is their first. Among the next tests for this team will be how they respond when they’re away from home, as well as if they have some in-game adversity in a hostile environment.
And while this angle is only going to grow if they win, the talk for days has also been that if Louisville doesn’t beat Kentucky, who will do it this season?
In all, there is plenty of reason to pay attention to this game on Saturday. The rivalry aspect is just one of them, even if it is the most enticing of them.
It looks like Maryland will soon get a boost, as Dez Wells’ return from a wrist injury appears close. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported that Wells planned to return to practice on Friday. Wells has been out since late November, and aside from a loss to Virginia the Terrapins haven’t missed a beat. Getting Wells back will only help. Maryland hosts Oakland on Saturday, and Wells may be on the court for that one.
San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee showed up at the team’s practice on Friday night. While he did not practice, it was no doubt a happy sight coming four days after he collapsed less than nine minutes into a game. Polee was released from the hospital on Tuesday, and there is no medical update as of yet.
It’s the last Saturday before conference play really gets going, as well as the first day of post-Christmas basketball. This will also be, by far, the lightest Saturday until March, as every Saturday between now and then will have over 100 Division I games. Besides the aforementioned rivalry game, here are some others to watch:
- Georgetown takes on Indiana at Madison Square Garden.
- UAB visits North Carolina, a team they beat in Birmingham last year.
- Maryland hosts Oakland in what should be a tough battle given what Greg Kampe’s teams do in non-conference play.
- West Coast Conference play gets going, with notable matchups including Gonzaga at Brigham Young and Santa Clara at Saint Mary’s.
- Colorado State visits New Mexico State.