We are headed into the final weekend of 2012, which means conference season is just about here. There are a few teams playing this weekend that could use one more strong non-conference win for their NCAA Tourney resumes. However, there is one game this weekend that takes center stage in the Bluegrass State. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
Game of the Weekend
#24 Kentucky at #3 Louisville – 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****)
- The Louisville-Kentucky series is starting to develop a pattern. Since the 2002-03 season, the Cardinals have won two in a row then dropped three in a row, won two in a row and then dropped three in a row. Rick Pitino and company are in the midst of another three-game slide to their in-state rival, so if the pattern holds, Louisville is due for a win on Saturday. The big news this week that may help secure that victory is the return of Gorgui Dieng from a wrist injury. Dieng has been out since before the Duke game and should have a significant impact against the Wildcats. While he may be a bit rusty, his defense is crucial against the UK frontcourt of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Defense in general will be key for Louisville in this game. Watch Kentucky point guard Archie Goodwin closely to see how he handles the Pitino press. In general, the Wildcats have not turned the ball over a great deal, but this is by far the best defense they have played all season long. Also, watch the rebounding numbers closely. Kentucky has a significant size advantage but the Cardinals have been better on the boards overall. This is where Dieng will make a huge difference. Without him, the Cards have little to no size. The question will be if he can play up to his pre-injury level without any major issues.
- Kentucky’s three losses this season have been also been their worst turnover performances of the the year (on a per possession basis). Goodwin is turning the ball over at a rate of about 20%, so it will be interesting to see how John Calipari has the offense bring the ball upcourt. Let’s see if they utilize their big men and size advantage to advance the ball. If you see a lot of dribbling in the backcourt by Kentucky, it will probably result in too many turnovers. The Wildcats have shown a more balanced offense against weaker opponents since their last loss to Baylor, but again, they will be facing what could be the best defense in the country, so they must continue to get contribution from a lot of sources. Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiljter haven proven they can put up 20+ points any given night. Unfortunately, they both can disappear from the offense as well. Both players need to have their best games of the season for Kentucky to win on the road.
- Dieng looks like he could be the difference in this game. Unfortunately, we do not know where he is at in terms of game stamina. If he can stay on the court and play defense and rebound at a reasonable pace, Louisville should be able to stop its three-game losing streak to Kentucky. If he gets tired or gets into foul trouble, the Wildcats can take advantage of their size and athleticism inside. However, they still need scoring from players like Harrow and Wiltjer if they plan to pull the road upset.
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