It's also the best game of the week, which makes for two consecutive weeks that Kentucky has been part of such a hyped showdown. There's almost no chance Kentucky-Louisville can top Kentucky-North Carolina, but you know what? Never count out a true rivalry game in a hostile environment. The Cardinals get this one on their court, and the environment will be great.
It'll be interesting to see how many BBN fans get into the building as well, because you know that's going to happen. I can't wait to watch this one. Here are five things to know as we head into a critical mid-December affair.
1. Louisville has the best defense in America
The Cardinals are allowing 59.4 points per game and a nation's-best 87.5 points per 100 possessions. John Calipari has said often that he thinks his Kentucky team should become the best defensive crew in the country later in the year. For now, Louisville is obviously better, and the Cards are doing it with pressure defense and an array of guards and wings who make life very uncomfortable. Louisville is so good on D because it can beat you with 85 feet of pressing or it can twirl you into fits by altering what you do in the half-court.
So that makes this game all the more interesting, because Kentucky has a top-five offense in America and has broken 100 points four times already this season. I can't see UK going for 85-plus in this one, but I can promise you that if Kentucky is able to clear 80 on Louisville, few teams will have any shot at beating Kentucky the way they want to beat them. UCLA did it with offense, because UCLA has a better offense than UK.
Louisville can only beat Kentucky, first and foremost, with its defense. So with that in mind ...
2. De'Aaron Fox can break Louisville's press
Fox might be the fastest player in college basketball. Louisville doesn't purely rely on a press, but Pitino likes to have his team get on you immediately. Work for everything. And he's already proclaiming that he will not bail on that philosophy.
Rick Pitino: "We're not going to slow it down" against Kentucky.— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) December 20, 2016
Thing is, you can't check Fox. He's been Kentucky's best player through the first five weeks of the season and a large portion of that is because he can blow by people. In doing so, he creates chaos for the defense and allows UK's talented studs to do what they do best. Malik Monk owes a lot of what he's done to Fox's playmaking.
To me, this is the one facet you want to keep an eye on through the first 10 minutes of the first half. Will Louisville aggressively press Kentucky, and, if so, how quickly can Fox muck all of that up? What traps will Pitino throw at him? Fox shouldn't get into foul trouble, but if that happens, things will really get interesting.
3. Monk's encore: boom or bust?
Millions around the country will tune in to Kentucky-Louisville on Wednesday night purely to see what Malik Monk will do next. He's not going to flirt with 40. The Louisville defense is too good, and the Cards will be adept at keying in on him. Monk is averaging nearly 22 points. I think he'll finish with 20.
Either way, Kentucky might not need Monk to bail them out. But it is going to be fun to see how Monk is used and how successful he is (or isn't) against the Cardinals' defensive attack.
Don't let Monk's UNC game completely overshadow the fact that he has been up and down from deep. He's had games wherein he's shot 1-of-6, 2-of-6, 2-of-8 (twice), 3-of-10 and 1-0f-5 from deep. If Monk is reliable (let's say 4-of-7) from 3-point range, it's a great omen for Kentucky. If he's off (call it 2-of-9), then Kentucky will need to find its spark elsewhere.
4. A blowout win for Kentucky is on the table
The spread for this game will be one or two points, and few will predict a double-digit win for the Wildcats -- but it's absolutely on the table.
Through more than a third of the regular season, Kentucky has looked like a better team than Louisville. I don't expect it to be a blowout, but if you told me Kentucky wins 82-66, I can see that happening.
Here's why it's on the table: Louisville's offense has to prove itself. Donovan Mitchell was billed as one of the breakout players in college hoops coming into this year. He's been good but not great. Louisville might need a 20-point effort from him. Louisville doesn't have dependable shooting from 3-point range (something Kentucky has also had trouble with, aside from Monk's outbursts), but it has been improving of late.
Mitchell will need to be conscious of his shots. The guy is shooting 29 percent from 3 yet has launched 62 of them this season (he's taken 58 attempts from 2-point range). Louisville can't win this game in the 80s. Low 70s is probably the sweet spot. Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel probably need to combine for 75 percent of Louisville's points. It will be fascinating to see if that can happen against the likes of Fox, Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe's defense.
5. Louisville/Pitino trying to end Kentucky's streak
The Wildcats lead the all-time series 32-15, and Kentucky has won four in a row. Not only that, but UK has won eight of the past nine meetings. This is more of a lopsided affair than some people realize, but a win here for Louisville would do wonders for the rivalry. Kentucky is coming off a high-profile win over a blue blood in UNC, and now it's standing on the precipice of having one of the best resumes in the sport. A win on the road against hated Louisville would do it.
The Cardinals have been mostly under the radar this season, but they're no joke. Pitino could really use this win, especially when you consider what Louisville has next: vs. Virginia, vs. Indiana (in Indianapolis), at Notre Dame, at Georgia Tech. A tricky five-game run here. Beating Kentucky would be huge for Louisville's NCAA Tournament resume.
Pitino is 1-8 all-time against John Calipari. He's 5-12 against Kentucky. You better believe he's aware of those marks as he preps for another showdown with mighty Big Blue Nation.
Ending the losing streak would mean even more.