In college basketball, Kentucky vs. Louisville is without a doubt one of the best rivalries in the nation. With the ascension of both programs to national prominence, some would argue the rivalry reigns supreme over anyone. The combination of two rabid fan bases, opposite colors and little separation adds fuel to the already burning fire. When the teams meet up in late December, the players and coaches all downplay their hatred towards the other side. The fans are the ones who really drive the rivalry, and that passion flows over on the basketball courts.
The ‘Cats and ‘Cards rivalry has really been set aflame since coaches John Calipari and Rick Pitino have brought their respective schools back to the pinnacle of college basketball. While the annual rivalry game is played in December, it’s an added bonus when both schools get the chance to play again. The state of Kentucky rejoiced in 2012 when the patrons saw both schools land in the Final Four. It was a bit unfortunate the meeting had to occur in the national semifinals. Can you imagine the ‘Cats and ‘Cards in a winner take all national title game? As close as we were in 2012, this coming basketball season gives college basketball fans everywhere the chance to see it again.
Both Athlon Sports and USA Today have the Kentucky Wildcats listed No. 1 for their preseason rankings. Louisville is a consensus Top-5 team and the defending national champions. The Cardinals dethroned the Wildcats last season by defeating Michigan in the title game while the ‘Cats played one game in the NIT (aka Not In Tournament) before falling to Robert Morris. Kentucky should be on a mission to bounce back from last season, and the Cardinals have a repeat on their minds.
Do you think this rivalry extends just to one game a year? Two if we’re lucky? Not even close. While the state of Kentucky is the mecca for college basketball right now, they didn’t get there by luck or chance. Especially with John Calipari, recruiting is a huge part in your success. On Monday, top 2014 recruit Trey Lyles used his Twitter account to let his followers know he has eliminated Florida and Butler from consideration, leaving Kentucky and Louisville to battle it out for his services.
For those of you asking, does it end there? The short answer is no. The ‘Cats and ‘Cards will rival each other in basketball, football, tiddly-winks, it doesn’t matter. College basketball just happens to be the sport that both teams have a considerable shot at winning a national title. It helps that Louisville’s current head coach Rick Pitino lead the Wildcats to the promise land in 1996 and back to the title game in 1997 before a brief hiatus in the NBA. The classic ’96 Final Four game between Pitino’s ‘Cats and Calipari’s UMass squad is now a log on this ever burning flame.
With the basketball teams on track to repeat a crash course in the Final Four (or the national title game?), there are plenty of reasons to be excited in Kentucky. Basketball is king in the Bluegrass, but I would be regressed not to mention the successes of Charlie Strong as the head coach of Louisville football. The Cardinals will stay in the national title chatter all season. While Kentucky is not up to par (yet) with the ‘Cards on the gridiron, new head coach Mark Stoops has the Wildcats on the rise.
Whether it’s red vs. blue, birds vs. cats, Pitino vs. Calipari or Strong vs. Stoops, one thing is always important. It’s all about those state bragging rights. On the recruiting trail, basketball court or football field, there will always be a constant battle of wills. A civil war ensues and the lines are drawn, which side will you choose?