THIS is the strangest dynamic I’ve EVER seen for the UK-UL get together. From the days of the “Dream Game” featuring Governor John Y. Brown in a blazer that was half blue and half red, to the John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins group who was off the chart in terms of emotion for this game. Saturday’s match-up, relatively speaking, barley moving the public passion needle and I think there are a number of factors causing that to happen:
1) Each fan base has gotten a title recently, UK in 2012 and of course Louisville last year. That gives those folks and those schools a chance to celebrate “their own” success and keeps them from getting a “high five moment” while hurling sticks and stones at the other guy.
2) Each has something to hang his hat on. DON’T listen to what they say publicly, there is some sort of “rub” that’s there between two guys who were once friends. Much like relationships we’ve had or seen, “something” happens and we often times don’t know what that something is. Whatever “it” is, both Calipari and Pitino have now in fact proven that the confidence (and investment) that each school made in them was capital well spent. Personally, they’ve also proven that “their way works”. They’ve never been more comfortable as coaches or as people. Why else would one of the two get a tattoo?
3) The timing of this year’s game has helped calm things down. Here we are sitting right in the middle of Christmas week. People have been traveling, not in their normal work routines and that means not being constantly bickering back and forth on social media or getting ramped up by what you hear on talk radio. “Peace on Earth good will to men” really woks—even when we’re talking about two crazy fan bases.
4) Louisville has “bigger fish” to try and fry. “What?” you say, not on the court, but hear me out. For all it’s rich basketball success, Louisville’s biggest gains athletically (especially during the Tom Jurich years) have been because of football. From a new stadium, a trip to the Sugar Bowl and admission to the ACC. It ALL happened because of football. Don’t believe me, then what does it say that the former UK manager and all around good guy Vinnie Tatum, the U of L Equipment Manager will probably the highest ranking U of L athletics official in attendance at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Virtually everyone else in the Cards Athletic Department will be in Orlando for the football bowl game. Sure they’ll be there to support, but also to keep an eye on all the other “big schools” that will be swooping around Cardinal coach Charlie Strong. If Strong leaves, the momentum that U of L has going into ACC play leaves with him.
5) I AGREE WITH BILLY REED. That hasn’t happened much in my thirty plus years in the business, but the veteran sports writer said when this game was first being debated, that after its played for a few years, it’ll be just “another game on the schedule” and not some seismic event with worldwide implications.
6) The people that this game means the most to are the UK fans in Louisville. Yes Jefferson County is home to UK’s largest alumni chapter, but its still Louisville a place, where before Matt Jones came along, had few UK friendly voices. A loss to the Cards doesn’t affect that fan base the way it used to, but its STILL something those folks have to hear about ALL year long.
7) Calipari said it best on Friday, “It’s only a big game if we win. If not, it’s on to the next one.” I venture to guess that’s ONE thing both coaches can agree on.
Our coverage starts Saturday at noon with a special pre-game look at the match-up. Tip-off is at 4:00pm and we’ve got special post game coverage on WKYT news at 6p!