Mark Story: Will UK be better than U of L by March?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 31, 2012 

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UofL head coach Rick Pitino, right, greets UK head coach John Calipari before the game. The University of Louisville hosted the University of Kentucky, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 at The Yum Center in Louisville . Photo by Jonathan Palmer

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Who's hot, who's not after the 33rd modern renewal (since 1983) of the Kentucky-Louisville men's hoops Armageddon:

HOT: Kentucky's post-season prospects.

At least, they are hotter. After what had been (by UK standards) a lackluster start to the 2012-13 season, it is possible Kentucky "found itself" in rallying from 17 down in the second half on the road against a highly motivated archrival. On the verge of being embarrassed Saturday, the Cats instead made Louisville sweat before falling 80-77.

If UK builds on the level of fight it showed in The Ville and if it can count on the kind of point guard play Ryan Harrow has provided in the past two games (40 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two turnovers combined), it is at least realistic to envision the Cats making a viable run at a third straight Final Four.

NOT HOT: Those saying after Saturday that UK's chances of making a deep run in March are better than Louisville's.

Let's simmer down a bit. The current nucleus of the U of L team took the Cardinals to the 2012 Final Four. Those players are a proven commodity under tournament pressure.

The current nucleus of the UK team beat Maryland on a neutral floor in the season opener and put up a good fight in the second half of the second half against U of L.

NBA Draft "experts" would tell you Kentucky has the higher talent ceiling than Louisville. The website nbadraft.net currently projects four UK players (the Wildcats' four freshmen) to go in the top 16 picks of the 2013 draft. It has no U of L players going in the first round.

That's why no No. 1 seed is going to want to look up on Selection Sunday and see Kentucky in its bracket.

Yet even if the Wildcats' young players take huge strides forward, what the Cats lack this season that they had in winning it all a year ago is the experience of Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb — three of the top six players from a Final Four team in 2011.

In Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, Louisville has veteran, talented guards. That usually bodes well in March. U of L combines that experienced core (including center Gorgui Dieng) with a group of players who also have the potential for significant growth — transfer Luke Hancock; sophomores Chane Behanan (a veteran, too), Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware; and freshman Montrezl Harrell.

As of New Year's Day, U of L still looks like the blue chip March stock of the two teams.

HOT: Peyton Siva.

The personable U of L senior finally had a good game against Kentucky. In his first four tries at the Cats, all U of L losses, Siva shot 8-for-34, 1-for-10 on three-pointers. Saturday, he hit six of 11 shots and scored 19 points.

Of course, this year, UK does not have the long, lock-down perimeter defender (think DeAndre Liggins, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) that has so thwarted the Louisville point guard in the past.

NOT HOT: The "football jinx."

After UK and U of L resumed their football series in 1994, the same team that won on the gridiron did not win the men's basketball game between the schools until U of L did the double in 2003-04. That was the only time that happened in the first 15 years after the Governor's Cup football rivalry renewed.

In the past four years, however, the team that won the Kentucky-Louisville football game has also gone on to win the men's hoops contest three times. UK did it twice, 2009-10 and 2010-11, and U of L got it done again this year.

HOT: Tom Jurich coaching hires.

In the three most visible sports, head coaches hired by U of L AD Jurich are now 22-19 against Kentucky — 9-6 in football; 5-8 in men's basketball; 8-5 in women's hoops.

NOT HOT: Mitch Barnhart coaching hires.

In the three most visible sports, head coaches hired by UK AD Barnhart are now 12-15 against Louisville — 4-6 in football; 4-3 in men's basketball; 4-6 in women's hoops.

HOT: The John Calipari-Rick Pitino coaching rivalry.

With Pitino's victory Saturday, it makes the college record of Cal against Ricky P. 9-9.

When Pitino was at Kentucky and Calipari at Massachusetts, Ricky P. went 4-1.

With Pitino at Louisville and Cal at Memphis, it was 4-4.

So far with Calipari at Kentucky and Pitino at U of L, it's now 4-1 in favor of Cal.

Moral: All things being equal, it's better to be head men's basketball coach at Kentucky.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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