You already know the players, the coaches and the rivalry at stake, but, theatrics aside, is this game worth watching? Does fourth-seeded Louisville even have a shot at cracking bitter rival, No. 1 Kentucky?
First, some interesting numbers to set the scene.
0 The number of Christmas cards Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and Kentucky head coach John Calipari send each other, according to what Calipari told the Washington Post. They aren’t friends.
1 NCAA Championships Louisville coach Pitino won as head coach at Kentucky. He did it 1996 after he re-built the team following a recruiting scandal, and was runner-up with the Wildcats the following season — his last there. Pitino was the first coach to lead three different teams to the Final Four (Kentucky, Louisville and Providence). Vacated wins aside, Calipari has done the same (Massachusetts, Memphis and Kentucky).
6.2% Of bracketeers playing on Yahoo! picked Louisville to reach the Final Four. 74.1% picked Kentucky to do the same.
9 McDonald’s All-Americans will be on the floor Saturday in the early game. Kentucky has six, all of whom play major minutes, and Louisville has three.
20 Current NBA players played their college ball at either Louisville or Kentucky; 16 of them were Wildcats.
28 Years since Louisville and Kentucky have faced off in the NCAA tournament. They’re tied at 2-2 all time in the dance.
77 Miles separate the two college campuses.
1,106 Combined wins for Pitino (603) and Calipari (503) as head coaches.
75,421 The largest crowd in Final Four history, set by those who attended Kentucky’s 2011 Final Four loss to UConn at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Thanks to the NCAA’s new policy on additional courtside seating and recently complete interior renovations, the Mercedes Benz Superdome should be equipped to accomodate 75,000 fans.
$10,112,569 combined salaries of Pitino and Calipari for just this season, including bonuses. They’re 1-2 on USA Today’s list of best-paid coaches that made the tournament.
Now, the five numbers that give credence to any “crazy” bets. Here’s why Louisville might have a shot:
0.84 That’s the Cardinals’ adjusted defensive efficiency rating via Ken Pomeroy’s calculations — it’s the best in the nation. Kentucky is 11th on this list. In the tournament, Louisville has allowed 0.92 raw ppp, and held Michigan State to 0.73 ppp.
13 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has attempted 50 three-point field goals this season and made 13. Keep him and his 10.5 percent OR% on the perimeter, and the Cardinals will be the better for it. Kidd-Gilchrist takes the third-most three attempts among the fab five starters, so it’s not a long shot.
23.1% Louisville’s disruptive backcourt, combined with staunch in-the-paint shot defense is the reason for their defensive tenacity. They force a turnover in 23.1 percent of their opponents’ possessions, and Steals are a specialty of 6-0 reserve guard Russ Smith. He’s second in the nation with one in 6.2 percent of his opportunities.
30 That’s how many points Smith scored off the bench the last time these two teams met, in December, to outscore all five Cardinals starters. More on this later.
298 That’s where Kentucky ranks in turnover percentage among D-I’s 345 teams. They can get sloppy.
Five reasons Louisville just won’t keep this game even:
0 Louisville has zero players named Anthony Davis.
1.05 That sad number is how many points LU scores per possession on average. It ranks 105th nationally, and is a far cry from the Wildcats’ 1.23 ppp, which is second.
6 Different Kentucky players end up with the ball in their hands more than 18 percent of the time. That’s a ridiculous level of possession-sharing that demonstrates the depth of the Kentucky roster. Everybody’s a star. The problem for Louisville? Finding a way to guard everybody on the floor equally.
13.9% of the time Anthony Davis will have a block. He’s made a cottage-industry out of it, and Louisville is middling at best at avoiding the block (167th, to be exact), despite the height and athleticism of 6-10 Gorgui Dieng, who himself gets a block in 10.5 percent of his chances.
75% Pomeroy’s pick to win it, in Kentucky’s favor.