Bluegrass Battle at the Final Four: Louisville Cardinals vs Kentucky Wildcats

2012 NCAA Tournament National Semifinals
#4 Louisville Cardinals vs #1 Kentucky Wildcats
Mercedes-Benz Superdome – New Orleans, Louisiana

Saturday, March 31, 2012, 6:09 pm Eastern, TV: CBS
Opening Line: Kentucky -8
Current Line: Kentucky -8 1/2
Opening Total: 138 1/2
Current Total: 136 1/2
Opening Money Line: Kentucky -500 / Louisville +400
Current Money Line: Kentucky -500 / Louisville +400

Kentucky takes on arch-rival Louisville Saturday in the Final Four in New Orleans. The Wildcats are 8.5 point favorites.

Kentucky and Louisville are located less than 80 miles apart. The two rivals have played 43 times in history, but none will be bigger than Saturday’s showdown at the Final Four in New Orleans. The winner will  play either Kansas or Ohio St in Monday’s National Championship game. The rivalry between the Cardinals and Wildcats became even more intense when longtime Kentucky coach Rick Pitino took over the Louisville program in 2001. Kentucky leads the series against Louisville 29-14. The Wildcats won in Lexington on New Year’s Eve 69-62 in the last meeting between the two schools.

Kentucky is coached by John Calipari. The 36-2 Wildcats won the SEC regular season title, but were upset by Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship game. Kentucky had won 24 games in a row prior to that loss. The Wildcats were still the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, and were placed in the South region. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky 81-66 in the second round and Iowa St 87-71 in the third round in Louisville. In the regionals in Atlanta, the Wildcats avenged their only other loss of the season with a 102-90 win over Indiana, and beat Baylor 82-70 in the Elite 8 to get to their 14th Final Four. Kentucky has won 7 national titles, but none since 1998.

Against Baylor, Kentucky took a 20 point lead at halftime and were never really challenged in the second half. Kentucky had 4 players score in double digits including Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 19 points and 5 rebounds. Anthony Davis had 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks for the Wildcats. There was a scary moment for Wildcat fans early in the second half when Davis, the likely #1 pick in the NBA draft, went down with a knee injury, that looked like it might have been a torn ACL. However, Davis only missed a few minutes as it turned out not to be a serious injury. He is probable against Louisville.

The 30-9 Louisville Cardinals have won 16 of their last 20 games, and 8 in a row. The Cardinals won the Big East tournament as the #7 seed and are the only one of the Final Four teams to win their conference tournament. Louisville was the #4 seed in the  West. The Cardinals beat Davidson 69-62 in the second round, and New Mexico 59-56 in the third round both in Portland. In the West regionals, Louisville upset #1 seed Michigan St 57-44 in the semifinals and beat Florida 72-68 in the regional final. It is the ninth trip to the Final Four for Louisville with 2 national titles. Louisville hasn’t won the title since 1986.

Florida, coached by Billy Donovan who played for Pitino at Providence and was a longtime assistant coach under him, seemed to be in control against Louisville. The Gators were up 65-54 with just over 8 minutes to go, but scored only 3 points for the rest of the game. Louisville closed the game on a 23-8 run over the last 10 minutes of the game to win. Louisville guard Russ Smith scored 19 points off the bench, and forward Chane Behanan added 17 points for the Cardinals.  Point guard Peyton Siva added 9 points and 8 assists for Louisville in the win.

Louisville is outscoring opponents 68-61 this season. The Cardinals are shooting 42.5% from the field including 31.7% from 3 point range. Louisville makes 68.8% of their free throws. The Cardinals average 37.7 rebounds and have a rebounding margin of  +1.6. Louisville averages 13.5 assists, 14.1 turnovers, 8.9 steals and 4.8 blocks a game. Cardinal opponents are shooting 38% from the field, including 30.3% from 3 point range. The Cardinals are 3rd nationally in opponents’ field goal percentage, and #22 in opponent’s 3 point percentage. Louisville forces 15.6 turnovers a game.

Louisville guard/forward Kyle Kuric averages 12.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.2 steals a game.  He makes 32.8% of his 3 point attempts. Russ Smith averages 11.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 2.2 steals a game to lead the team. Chris Smith averages 9.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1 steal a game. He is shooting 39.8% from 3 point range. Chane Behanan averages 9.5 points, and 7.4 rebounds a game. Gorgui Dieng averages 9.2 points, 9 rebounds to lead the team, 1 assist, 1.2 steals, and 3.2 blocks a game to lead the team.   Peyton Siva averages 9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.7 steals a game. He leads the team in assists. Guard Mike Marra and forwards Rakeem Buckles & Stephen Van Treese are all out indefinitely or for the season with knee injuries.

Kentucky is outscoring opponents 78-61 this season. The Wildcats are shooting 48.8% from the field and 37.8% from 3 point range. Kentucky is in the top 15 nationally in scoring and field goal percentage. The Wildcats make 72.7% from the free throw line. Kentucky is 17th nationally in rebounding with 38.9 boards a game, with a rebounding margin of +7.1. The Wildcats average 13.4 assists, 11.3 turnovers, 6.1 steals, and 8.6 blocks a game. Kentucky opponents are shooting 37.5% from the field and 31.5% from 3 point range. The Wildcats are first nationally in opponents’ field goal percentage and 25th in points allowed. Kentucky forces 11.7 turnovers a game.

Kentucky has 6 players averaging double digits in scoring. Freshman forward sensation Anthony Davis averages 14.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 4.6 blocks a game. He leads the Wildcats in scoring, rebounds, steals, and blocks. Guard Doron Lamb averages 13.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists a game. He is shooting 47.1% from 3 point range. Terrence Jones averages 12.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.8 blocks a game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist averages 12 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1 steal, and 0.9 blocks a game.   Darius Miller averages 10 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists a game.  Marquis Teague averages 10 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists to lead the team, and 0.9 steals a game.  Guards Jon Hood and Sam Malone are both out indefinitely with knee injuries.

Kentucky is 15-21-1 ATS and the total is 16-19-3 this season. Louisville is 22-13-1 ATS and the total is 15-21 this season. Kentucky has covered 6 of the last 8 against Louisville, and 11 of the last 13 meetings have gone under the total. The Cardinals are 8-0 ATS against teams with winning records, overall, and in neutral site games, 5-0 in non-conference games, 4-0 in NCAA tournament games, and as a neutral site underdog, 13-3 after a cover, 8-2 in Saturday games, 21-6 after a cover, and 7-2 ATS as an underdog. The Wildcats are 8-2 ATS after a cover, 5-1 in NCAA tournament games as a favorite of 7-12.5 points, 6-2 in NCAA tournament games, 11-4 as an NCAA tournament favorite, 4-11 in Saturday games, and 3-11-1 in non-conference games.

Last season, Connecticut won the Big East Tournament by winning 5 games in 5 days. The Huskies then rode that momentum all the way to the National Championship, beating Kentucky in the Final Four on the way. Though Louisville, only had to win 4 games in 4 days, the Cardinals and their fans hope for the same result as UConn last year. However, this Kentucky team is much more talented than they were last year. Anything can happen in a rivalry game like this, but I just can’t pick the Cardinals to pull off the upset. Kentucky wins but the Cardinals keep it inside the number.

Our college basketball handicappers have dominated the books this March and look to continue that trend in the Final Four.

 

 

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