Weekend Preview: Five storylines to follow
Kentucky and Louisville, tables turned?: I don’t think there’s really an argument that, right now, Kentucky and Louisville have the fiercest rivalry in the country. Let’s ignore, for a second, that this rivalry has been built across socioeconomic and geographic lines, or that it is a battle for supremacy in the state where college basketball happens to reign king. The Wildcats and the Cardinals were both in the Final Four last season. They compete for the same recruits. They have head coaches that hate each other. There are other rivalries that are full of hatred, but based on the recent history between these two programs, it gets no better than this right now.
The best part, however, is that Louisville has flipped the tables on Kentucky. The Wildcats are the ones coming off of a national title and the ones that can land seemingly any recruit in the country that they set their sights on, but it’s Louisville that is currently top five in the country and Louisville that is considered a real threat to do something more than reach the tournament’s second weekend this season. Kentucky may have had more recent success, but it’s Louisville that is the healthiest program in the state right now.
Let’s see how long that lasts.
Disappointing matchups this weekend: It’s tough to take the luster off of a matchup between Louisville and Kentucky, but one of the things that made this game the most anticipated of the season was that it not only featured a great rivalry, but that great rivalry was a rematch of the Final Four between two teams ranked in the top three. Well, that’s not the case anymore. Kentucky needed to pick up a couple of wins over the last two weeks just to climb back into the bottom of the top 25 poll. Louisville is still a top five team, but I’m not sure how many people consider them the favorite to win the national title anymore.
That’s not the only game this happened to, either. North Carolina’s struggles have made their matchup with UNLV less appealing (although with the way that both teams like to get up and down the floor, I think it will be easy to convince people to tune in). Baylor has fallen off the map after looking like a real contender to Kansas in the Big 12, which means that their trip to Spokane to take on Gonzaga has been dulled. UCLA has won a couple games of late, but their early-season issues have dampened the expectations for their season. Missouri, on the other hand, is still a top ten team, but without Michael Dixon, they aren’t the same kind of national threat.
Missouri Valley action kicks off: While everyone else is excited about the Mountain West race this season, I’m looking forward to seeing the competition in the MVC as much as anything. The action kicks off on Saturday, which Wichita State hosting Northern Iowa playing the featured role.
Last chance to turn around a disappointing non-conference season?: There haven’t been many teams in the country more disappointing that USC this year. The Trojans brought in all kinds of talent on the transfer market and managed to get all of the players they lost last season back and healthy, yet they are still sitting at 4-8 on the season with the New Year right around the corner. The Trojans will have a chance to get themselves headed in the right direction when they host Dayton on Saturday.
USC isn’t the only disappointment looking to right their ship with conference play coming. Memphis will take on a pair of quality mid-major foes in Oral Roberts and Loyola (MD). St. Joe’s will get a chance to notch a solid win when they take on Iona. Even West Virginia will be looking to close out their non-conference schedule with a win over Eastern Kentucky.
Kwamaine Mitchell is back: The best player on St. Louis will return to the lineup on Saturday when the Billikens take on SIU-Edwardsville. St. Louis has been a bit of a disappointment this season, but disappointment is a harsh word when you consider that Mitchell was out of the lineup and the team was trying to adjust to playing under a new coach as the late Ric Majerus could not coach this season. Butler, Temple and VCU and the popular picks to win the league this season. Can Mitchell get St. Louis back into that conversation?