Louisville basketball: Battle of the Bluegrass gameday primer

Jaylen Johnson #10 of the Louisville Cardinals (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Jaylen Johnson #10 of the Louisville Cardinals (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Louisville basketball is set to take on Kentucky today in the Battle of the Bluegrass rivalry game.

One of the biggest rivalries in sports is set to take shape once again in this Covid year when Louisville basketball takes on Kentucky in a series that has been played in now 42 consecutive seasons.

Kentucky leads the all-time series that dates back to 1913, 37-15.

This is a very unfamiliar spot for Kentucky who has lost five straight contests this season and has not beaten a power five team yet.

In an attempt to try to spark his squad, Kentucky head coach John Calipari recently announced that he requested one of the young freshman to take time away from the team.

Clearly, Calipari feels like he needs to make some decisions to ignite a fire under his team.

Louisville is enjoying a 5-1 start to the season despite Covid and injury issues scattered throughout the program.

This storied rivalry has been dominated by the Wildcats recently as they have won seven of the last eight meetings between the two teams.

Calipari’s Wildcats have had a horrid start to the year, but do not be surprised if he has them ready for gameday on Saturday.

The ‘Cats are young, but oozing with talent; that is not an unfamiliar tagline for almost all Kentucky teams under Calipari’s lead.

Let’s get in to the official preview for the Battle of the Bluegrass between Louisville and Kentucky.

Who: Kentucky Wildcats (1-5) at Louisville Cardinals (5-1)

Where: KFC Yum! Center; Louisville, Kentucky

When: Saturday, Dec. 26, at 1 pm eastern time

Spread: Louisville -4


Projected starting lineups

Louisville (5-1)

F 10 Samuell Williamson 6-7 210 So. Rockwall, Texas

F 14 Dre Davis 6-5 220 Fr. Indianapolis, Ind.

C 24 Jae’Lyn Withers 6-8 215 R-Fr. Charlotte, N.C.

G 1 Carlik Jones 6-2 185 Gr. Cincinnati, Ohio

G 13 David Johnson 6-5 210 So.  Louisville, Ky.

Kentucky (1-5)

F 23 Isaiah Jackson 6-10 206 Fr. Pontiac, Mich.

F 30 Olivier Sarr 7-0 237 Sr. Bordeaux, France

C 3 Brandon Boston Jr. 6-7 185 Fr. Norcross, Ga.

G 5 Terrence Clarke 6-7 194 Fr. Boston, Mass.

G 10 Davion Mintz 6-3 196 Gr. Charlotte, N.C.

Players to watch for Kentucky

G Terrence Clarke – Clarke has all of the talent in the world as a five-star freshman. He has assumed most of the primary ball handling duties for the Wildcats up to this point in the season. He is a 6’7″ guard so he is an immediate matchup nightmare. Keeping Clarke out of the lane will be key for Louisville in this game.

F Isaiah Jackson – He has immediately become one of the best shot blockers in the country despite being just a freshman. Jackson is up to 2.5 blocks per game this season and while he has not found scoring touch early in the year, he will be a load to handle on the glass and when the Cardinals are looking to drive to the paint.

F Olivier Sarr – One of the veterans of the group, the 7-footer has seen a lot of foul trouble through the first six games. He is a very good all-around player that should be a double-double machine if he can clear up his fouling issues. The Wake Forest transfer has picked up at least three fouls in every game in 2020 so far. If Sarr gets going, he could be a serious problem.

Players to watch for Louisville

F Jae’Lyn Withers – I would like to see the Cardinals play more through Withers in the post. He is a very good passer from that part of the court. He is also a gifted athlete and scorer that is unfortunately playing out of position. If Withers can use his playmaking from the post, he can kick to open shooters on the perimeter. He will have another tough matchup with Sarr and Jackson on Saturday.

G David Johnson – Johnson has 13 turnovers in the last two games combined. He cannot do that in this game and expect the team to win the game. He is simply taking too many risks on the offensive end right now. If he makes those risks more calculated, he will have much more success. Johnson certainly does not lack talent. Look for him to have a huge impact on the game.

G Carlik Jones – Jones did not shoot the ball well against Pitt in his return from a battle with Covid. Kentucky has had issues from the guard position in 2020. Calipari has been looking for answers at that spot (which is why Terrence Clarke has handled the ball so often). The veteran could look to strike and control the game against a struggling Kentucky backcourt.

Final thoughts

The Wildcats have NBA size all over the floor. While Louisville has rebounded the ball very well this year despite size deficiencies at the forward positions, this will be a constant battle for the Cardinals.

It has been a noted national talking point that the Wildcats are one of the worst outside shooting teams in the country at 24 percent. You can expect Calipari will want to defeat the pack line defense with the athletic talent he boasts at all positions.

If he cannot do that, this game could get ugly for Kentucky. Anytime this team is forced to shoot the ball from the perimeter, bad things happen.

Score prediction

Louisville 67, Kentucky 62

I think this game will be closer than some may anticipate it to be. It is still a rivalry after all. I am predicting Louisville to get the pack line defense corrected this week against one of the poorest shooting teams in the country.

It would be the first win for the Cardinals since 2016 and this is as good of a chance as ever to kick a Kentucky team when they are down. It is not often they will get to face a Kentucky team with five straight losses and looking as defeated as ever.

This win could be monumental for Louisville in both rivalry bragging rights and further momentum as they head into ACC play.