Seven keys to victory: Kentucky vs Louisville
Kentucky picked up their biggest win of the season against North Carolina last Saturday but now they face their first road test of the season. Louisville is projected to be an NCAA tournament team under first year head coach Chris Mack so it will be a tough challenge for the young Wildcats. If they hope to pick up the road win these are the keys to the game.
- Slow down Jordan Nwora– The 6’8 sophomore wing is the Cards leading scorer at 18 points a game while also adding 8.5 rebounds. He shoots 40% from beyond the 3-point line and averages over two makes a game from there. He is also very effective at drawing fouls and scoring from the free throw line. No other Louisville player averages 10 points a game so that should allow Kentucky to key in on Nwora. Keldon Johnson seems to be best suited to defend him but PJ Washington will get a shot as well. Forcing him to take long contested jumpers would seem to be the best plan of attack. Keeping him off the glass would also go a long way towards winning the rebounding battle.
- Defend the 3-point line– The Cats 3-point defense looked better against North Carolina and that was a big factor in the win. That defense will need to be even better against Louisville who has multiple threats from deep. The Cards average over 8 made threes per game so it is a large part of their offensive attack. They will make some shots from behind the arc but the key is for Kentucky to make it hard for them and to hold them under their average.
- Dominate the glass– Louisville is a very good defensive team and these rivalry games are often a bit of a rock fight with a lot of missed shots. That will make winning the rebounding battle all the more important. Second chance points should be in the Cats favor this game if they rebound with the intensity that they need to. Louisville does have some size inside but Kentucky should have a decent advantage in that area. The Cats must capitalize on that and win this battle.
- Feed the post and let Reid and PJ eat– Both Reid Travis and PJ Washington will be a major problem for Louisville to defend. Kentucky has to do a good job of getting the ball in the post and letting the duo go to work.
- Make enough shots to keep the Cards honest– The Cats have enough of an advantage inside that they don’t need great shooting to be able to win this game. They just need to make enough shots outside the arc to keep Louisville from sagging their defense into the paint too much. The team seems to be gaining confidence in terms of shooting the ball but doing it in the first hostile road environment that they have faced will be a test. Keldon Johnson has been red-hot from deep so it would be great for it to continue but my eye is on Tyler Herro who is shooting the ball better and better. If he can knock down a few triples it will go a long way towards opening up the court for the team.
- Run, run, run– Louisville does not play an uptempo style and you can be sure that Chris Mack would like to turn this into a half court game. Kentucky needs to look for any chance to push the tempo in the open court. I expect the Cats to use some full court pressure in an attempt to speed the Cards up a bit. Flying up the court after defensive rebounds will also be a key for Kentucky to get some easy baskets.
- Don’t let the crowd decide the game-The crowd will be fired up and ready to see Chris Mack get his first win against Kentucky. The young Cats will have to play with poise and that is especially true of Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley who will need a steady hand at the point guard position. Despite their youth the Cats do at least have a couple of key players in Reid Travis and PJ Washington, that have faced these kind of environments before. There will be a moment in the game that the crowd gets really into it and it will be how the Cats respond to it that decides the game.
I think it will be a very good game and a good start to the new version of the rivalry. On a neutral court I would feel fairly confident in the Cats chance of winning the game but since it is in the Yum Center it changes things. Honestly I think the matchup favors Kentucky in almost every category except for the crowd factor. It pushes me to predict a Wildcat victory but I am going to go with my gut and say Louisville wins a close one 73-71. Either way this will be a learning experience for Kentucky that will help them develop into a Final Four contender. Another game of win or learn but it should would be nice to win and learn in this one.