Article written by NOB contributing writer Hayley Schletker. Follow her on twitter @hcschl2
Sunday night, with the final spot in the 2013 Final Four on the line, two of Kentucky fans’ most despised opponents will take the court. The good news is one of them will certainly lose. The bad? Somebody has to win, putting one of UK’s arch nemesis two games away from bringing home a National Championship. Assuming no member of Big Blue Nation has the power to control the weather in order to create some sort of game-halting natural disaster, there has to be a best case scenario to come of out this. (And since we’re not rooting for people to actually get hurt here, that whole natural disaster thing would probably just delay the inevitable.) Around the Commonwealth, the debate rages on: who is it most acceptable to root for?
The Case For Louisville:
The Cardinals are 32-5 and have won 13 straight since snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 5 overtimes at Notre Dame. Their pressure defense helps cause nearly 11 steals per game, which is second highest in the NCAA for the 2013 season, behind only VCU. Beyond steals, their deflections on defense help disrupt the other team’s scoring.
Offense has been a concern, but leading scorer Russ Smith has been on a tear in the NCAA tournament, averaging 27 ppg, while Peyton Siva is averaging nearly 6 assists per game for the season. Though defense is their calling card, the Cards have the ability to put up points in bunches, especially of late.
Beyond the numbers the most common refrain for members of Kentucky who have chosen to root for the Cardinals is that they are from Kentucky, and Louisville is in Kentucky (there is your Geography lesson for the day). The possibility of the Commonwealth possibly holding the national championship trophy for two years (okay, three, since we’re all thinking it) straight years would be a nice accomplishment for a state that loves basketball as much as Kentucky.
On the flip side, while all Kentuckians are not Louisvillians, all Louisvillians are Kentuckians (sort of like that whole crocodile/alligator thing). Do we really think the UofL fans of Louisville (who, as we already established, are also Kentuckians) were rooting for Kentucky in last year’s championship game? Maybe some, but the majority were most certainly hoping Kansas could pull of the comeback.
No matter how Kentucky fans try to demote UofL with the “little brother” moniker, they are still UK’s rivals. Did Alabama fans root for Auburn to keep the trophy in the Yellowhammer State in 2011? Nope. In fact, they (okay, just one of them) poisoned their trees. Rivals don’t root for rivals, especially for the biggest prize in a sport. Though Kentucky has a number of rivalries created by closely contested series with programs of similar stature, true rivalries are rooted in the fans. And it’s the teams whose fans with whom we’re interacting with on a daily basis that truly count to most of us. We can be civil and we can claim to see the universal benefit in the aftermath… or we can profess apathy because, “Well, even if they win it all, 8 is still more than 3,” but deep down, we really just wanted them to lose.
The Case For Duke:
The 2-seeded Blue Devils are 30-5 and have lost just once in the month of March (to Maryland in the ACC tournament). Senior Ryan Kelley returned from injury in time for Senior Day and has helped power Duke through a post season run where 5 of their 6 wins were by double digits. Senior Mason Plumlee is averaging over 17 points per game. Senior Seth Curry is close behind averaging right at 17 points per game and hitting over 46% from deep despite suffering from a mysterious lower leg injury that has apparently prevented him from practicing for most of the season.
Duke is a rival to Kentucky in the completely opposite manner of Louisville. Duke and Kentucky’s rivalry was not born out of daily interaction amongst fans and familiarity of programs because of shared news outlets and schools and workplaces and sidewalks. It’s a rivalry created by high level, high stakes games, often with Final Fours and Championships on the line.
For example, in a little-remember game between the two schools that occurred some years ago, after 39 minutes and 57.9 seconds of play, a fine young man name Christian Laettner hit a shot to send Duke to the Final Four over Kentucky’s Unforgettables (Was quite a shot really, it’s a shame it has slipped from the general consciousness of basketball fans). Duke went on to win their second championship that year.
Out of this oft-forgotten game came a very well-hidden distaste for the Blue Devils (and that Laettner fellow) among Kentucky fans. But Kentucky has had its revenge against Duke. With the opportunity to again steal a Final Four bid from the Wildcats in 1998, a last second shot-attempt hit high off the backboard, and Kentucky finished the season with their seventh national title.
In the time since, Duke has won two more championships, making it one of the few programs within striking distance of UK and its 8 championships. In fact, a win against Louisville will give the Blue Devils their 16th Final Four appearance, moving them out of tie with Kentucky for 3rd most all time. But are infrequent games, similar historic accomplishments and shot that happened before the average college basketball player was born enough to truly consider Duke a true rival of Kentucky’s? Or is it just another school with a great basketball tradition that has a history of playing great games against Kentucky.
Who you root for will come down to what part of the rivalry is most important to you: is it your daily interactions or the overall standings in the history of college basketball? But one way or another, one of these teams will be in the Final Four by Sunday evening, unless somebody can get on that tornado thing. But by next Saturday, we can all be united again in hoping Wichita State pulls off a Shocker.
And if that prospect isn’t enough to take away the dirty taste rooting for either Duke or Louisville will leave in your mouth, you can always preview the 2014 NCAA Champions (or, the McDonalds All American Game, as some call it) on ESPN April 3 at 9:30 Eastern.