One of the fiercest rivalries in college basketball will be renewed after a brief hiatus when No. 20 Kentucky and Louisville square off Saturday on CBS in a battle between two teams each dealing with their share of struggles. It's been a nightmare start to Kenny Payne's coaching tenure at Louisville as the Cardinals enter just 2-11. But a win over the Kentucky would cover a multitude of sins, and the Wildcats have looked vulnerable this season.
At 8-4, Kentucky has suffered double-digit losses against Gonzaga, UCLA and Missouri with a lone notable victory over Michigan. The team's lackluster start on the heels of a historic loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter's in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament have ratcheted up the scrutiny on 14th-year coach John Calipari.
The Wildcats have the reigning Naismith National Player of the Year in Oscar Tshiebwe and key returning veterans in Sahvir Wheeler and Jacob Toppin. They also have a pair of five-star freshmen in Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston and two potential impact transfers in Antonio Reeves and CJ Frederick. But despite what appears to be a solid collection of ingredients, Calipari has not been able to find consistency.
Louisville has some talent as well, but the Cardinals' roster is sorely lacking in quality guards. As a result, senior El Ellis is playing a Herculean role and has a top-10 usage rate among all players nationally. In essence, Ellis has been asked to do it all for the Cardinals after logging 20.5 minutes per game last season in a part-time starting role.
The Cardinals rank 353rd nationally in points per game at 61.4 and have made a habit of getting blown out against power conference opposition. But if anyone knows how to put together a gameplan against Kentucky, it should be Payne. Though he is a former star forward for the Cardinals, Payne worked as an assistant for Calipari at Kentucky from 2010 until 2020.
While it's always heated when these squads play, a couple of factors add fuel to this year's meeting. For one thing, last year's meeting was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Louisville program, which means there are two years of pent-up aggression waiting to break loose. Also, the Wildcats just won a massive recruiting battle over the Cardinals by signing five-star guard DJ Wagner whose grandfather, Milt, works for the Louisville program is a former star player for the Cardinals.
It's always entertaining when Kentucky and Louisville play, and though the game is at its best when both teams are playing well, this year's version features plenty of intrigue as well.
How to watch Kentucky vs. Louisville live
Date: Saturday, Dec. 31 | Time: 12 p.m. ET
Location: Rupp Arena -- Lexington, Kentucky
TV: CBS | Live stream: CBSSports.com, CBS Sports App (Free)
Kentucky vs. Louisville prediction, picks
There is no amount of heart and desire that can fix Louisville's abysmal offense and poorly constructed roster, but the Cardinals at least have the size and athleticism to be a solid defensive team. Amid a horrific start, the motivation to play quality defense has been questionable for the Cardinals. But there should be no lack of motivation here for what is an elite college basketball rivalry game. Look for Louisville to leave it all on the floor against a middling Kentucky squad and keep this score semi-respectable. Prediction: Louisville +23.5
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