The new U of L head man will, amazingly, be the first coach from either school in the modern history (since 1982-83) of the Wildcats-Cardinals series to make his rivalry debut in Louisville.
Famously, Kentucky’s Joe B. Hall and Louisville’s Denny Crum commenced the modern Cats-Cards rivalry in the 1983 NCAA Tournament round of eight. The “Dream Game” was played at Stokely Athletic Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee.
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U of L’s 80-68 overtime victory in a contest filled with entertaining ebb and flow was so compelling, it led to an annual series between the intrastate foes starting the very next season.
So both UK’s Hall and U of L’s Crum coached their first regular-season Cats-Cards game in Rupp Arena to begin the 1983-84 season.
That set a pattern.
Among subsequent Kentucky coaches, Eddie Sutton also entered the rivalry in Rupp in 1985-86, as did Rick Pitino (1989-90), Tubby Smith (1997-98), Billy Gillispie (2007-08) and John Calipari (2009-10).
Louisville has experienced fewer coaching changes, but when Pitino launched his “red period,” he, too, first faced Kentucky in Rupp Arena in 2001-02.
Louisville backers will hope the fact Mack will break this pattern by coming into the Cats-Cards series in The Ville portends other changes in rivalry fate for U of L.
To put this simply, Kentucky has thoroughly dominated the modern basketball rivalry with Louisville.
The Wildcats are 26-13 against the Cardinals since 1982-83.
Over that time, Louisville has never beaten Kentucky more than two years in a row. Conversely, UK’s Calipari (9-2 vs U of L as top Cat) already has two distinct, four-game winning streaks vs. the Cardinals just himself.
In four modern (since 1983) NCAA Tournament meetings between Cats and Cards, UK has prevailed three times, including in the 2012 Final Four and 2014 round of 16.
Though Crum memorably won the 1983 NCAA tourney meeting vs. UK, he went 7-13 overall (35 percent) vs. Kentucky.
Pitino fared even worse vs. the Cats. Once he crossed the rivalry line, Ricky P. went 6-12 (33 percent) as U of L coach against UK.
Poor Padgett absorbed a 90-61 bludgeoning last season in his lone go against Kentucky as Louisville head man.
So, for Mack, the rivalry bar is not high. If he could just break even against UK, it would be a massive improvement over what his immediate U of L predecessors have managed.
During his prior gig as Xavier coach, Mack had a strong rivalry resume. In the Crosstown Shootout vs. Cincinnati — one of the more heated college hoops series in the country — Mack led the Musketeers to six wins in nine games with the Bearcats.
Interestingly, UK may have provided Mack a boost in getting off on the right rivalry foot with the way Kentucky scheduled entering Saturday’s game.
In what is probably the least surprising statistic in American sports, UK in the Calipari era is 3-6 in its initial contest each season on a foe’s home court. For a program that essentially fields a brand new team heavy with freshman guards every season, that is not shocking.
Louisville on Saturday will be Kentucky’s first true road game of 2018-19.
It is the third straight time that U of L in the Yum Center has been UK’s initial away game.
Four years ago, the 2014-15 Wildcats that began their season 38-0 struggled to a 58-50 win at U of L in their initial road foray.
If you are wondering what difference having a road game under a team’s collective belt can make, Kentucky is 7-2 in the Calipari era in its second away contest each season.
First-time head coaches have not fared well in modern Cats-Cards tilts.
On Saturday, Chris Mack gets his first chance to flip the script of Kentucky head-to-head superiority over Louisville that has been the prevailing storyline of our state’s marquee men’s college hoops rivalry for decades now.