As mentioned a few days ago, college basketball really could stand to improve its presence in the days immediately after Christmas with some long-lost holiday events. That said, if there was only going to be only one college basketball game the day after Christmas, there weren’t many better picks than Louisville at Kentucky.
Rick Pitino at Rick Pitino’s former school. Rick Pitino against protégé John Calipari. Eleven combined national championships. A bitter state rivalry. A national TV audience on CBS with Bill Raftery as part of the call.
Saturday’s latest meeting provided a result that has been familiar in the series of late, with the Wildcats defeating the Cardinals 75-73. That’s now eight wins in the last nine for UK over U of L. And-oh yes, small note-that run coincides with Calipari taking over as Kentucky coach in 2009.
The Wildcats built a 16-point lead early in the second half yet had to hang on after a three-point attempt at the buzzer was off. Tyler Ulis was the star with 21 points, eight assists and a steady hand whenever Kentucky needed it, while Dominique Hawkins added 13 points off the bench, every one of them needed.
The game featured all that’s good and bad in college basketball this year. Both teams combine talent and athleticism with playing their tails off, even as they are still unrefined. Both pressured defensively all over the floor. When they weren’t pressuring, crashing the offensive glass (a combined 31 offensive rebounds-21 by Louisville) or running it up the court after missed shots, though, the halfcourt offense was the NBA Lite the sport continues to fall into, with lots of dribbling and standing around save for one ball screen after another.
Kentucky still has work to do. It didn’t help that guard Isaiah Briscoe missed the game after tweaking an ankle in warmups. Skal Labissiere (two points, three rebounds in 10 minutes) continues to not deliver the numbers expected of an expected top-flight freshman, while also showing how ridiculous it can be to name a freshman with exactly zero minutes of collegiate experience as a preseason collegiate All-American. The Wildcats weren’t great from the foul line (16 of 25) and were owned on the glass. All that said, UK is still one of the most talented teams in the country.
As far as the Cardinals go, little in this game changed one’s mind that they’re a pleasant surprise this year. One has to wonder just where they’d be, though, if not for NCAA free agency. Drexel transfer Damion Lee scored 27, Cleveland State transfer Trey Lewis scored 16, and those two combined to take nearly half of the team’s shots. If/when the NCAA ever closes this loophole, it will put a premium back on high school and junior college recruiting.
- Some sad news made its way through social media on Saturday, as we learned of the passing of George Rodecker. “Roadie”, as he was known, was a one-time Hoopville contributor who was as wired into NBA scouts as anyone. A New York area writer, his specialties were the NBA Draft and women’s basketball, both of which he covered extensively. Hoopville writers who went to Madison Square Garden or the Barclays Center often ran into Roadie and enjoyed his company and knowledge of the game. Details are scarce at the moment, but we at Hoopville extend our condolences to George’s family and friends.
Today’s Menu: Just 12 games on the schedule involving Division I teams, most of them guarantee games that won’t draw many away from football
- The best game of the day has Middle Tennessee State against South Dakota State from the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. Both teams have played challenging non-conference schedules and come out of them well for the most part-SDSU is 10-3 despite playing just four home games, MTSU is 7-3, and both are in the top 55 of the RPI. The Jackrabbits are dealing with some injuries-guards George Marshall and Jake Bittle are out.
- The only ranked team in action is Maryland, which hosts Marshall (5 p.m., BTN). Later on that network, South Carolina State is at Ohio State (7 p.m.) and one-loss Northwestern hosts Loyola (Md.) at 9 p.m.
- Other TV games include Texas Southern at Syracuse (3 p.m., ESPNU) and Presbyterian in Milwaukee to face Marquette.
- A solid regional game in the east has Fairfield at Bucknell. The Bison have lost six straight, many in tough fashion against a difficult schedule, while the Stags are 5-2 since a 0-3 start to the year.
Enjoy your Sunday, the third day of Christmas.