There are a lot of Louisville Cardinals fans in Louisville, Kentucky. But there are a lot of Kentucky Wildcats fans all over the Bluegrass State. At a press conference Tuesday, Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino explained the societal impacts of the red-blue divide.
“They have many fans in our city, and it ends up with a lot of bad marriages - a lot of mixed marriages that end up bad. You have a Louisville woman with a Kentucky man, and it always ends bad," Pitino joked.
On Monday at a dialysis center in Georgetown, Kentucky, a 68-year-old Kentucky fan and a 71-year-old Louisville supporter started arguing about the upcoming game. The 68-year-old man, who was hooked up to a dialysis machine, held up a finger … not the one you see on giant foam hands. The older man responded by punching him in the face.
Yahoo! Sports national college columnist and Only A Game analyst Pat Forde lives in Louisville.
[sidebar width="270" align="right"] The Women's Final Four
Bill Littlefield gets a preview of the women's Final Four games from ESPNW basketball writer Michelle Smith. [/sidebar]“I don't care what people say about Duke and North Carolina, I don't care what people say about Kansas and Missouri," Forde said. "This is the most hard-core, passionate, year-round, every-day-battle-between-the-fans sort of rivalry that there is in the sport.”
There’s another wrinkle in the rivalry: the coaches. Louisville's Pitino spent eight years as the head coach at Kentucky. In the Final Four in 1996, Pitino and Kentucky knocked off John Calipari and UMass on the way to a Wildcats national championship. Today, Calipari coaches Kentucky, but on Tuesday, he declared that rivalries go out the window when the stakes are this high.
“When you’re playing at this stage in the season, a win or a loss doesn't matter if it's against a school 12 miles from you or 1000 miles," he said. "It really does not matter.”
The Wildcats and Cardinals have never played on a bigger stage than they will tonight. Kentucky is the favorite. The Wildcats entered the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. Louisville is a No. 4 seed. It’s unlikely the Cardinals will be able to stop the Wildcats' offense, but to win, they’ll have to slow it down. Kentucky has six players who average at least 10 points a game.
The Wildcats are tough on the other end, too. Freshman star forward Anthony Davis averages more than four blocked shots per contest. Forde says the loser will have to deal with more than just the pain of failing to win a national championship.
“This is a game people are going to talk about for the rest of their lives in the state of Kentucky. As great as it would be to win, it would be worse to lose. The loser is going to have to hear about this endlessly."
The other half of the bracket features Ohio State and Kansas, both 2-seeds. This week in Lawrence, Kansas, senior Emily Sis considered the possibility of a Jayhawks national title.
“It would be like an exclamation mark on my time at KU. Being able to see the team bring home a trophy would probably be one of the best days of my life."
Despite that declaration, it’s not like the Jayhawks are the Chicago Cubs. They won their third national championship in 2008 and this is Kansas’s 14th Final Four appearance. And although football gets top billing at Ohio State, Buckeyes basketball has made at least one NCAA tourney appearance in every decade since the 1930s and went to three consecutive finals from 1960-62, earning one title.
“If you look at Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, playing in multiple championships in the early '60s, they've been very competitive throughout in the Big Ten in the '70s and '80s. In 2001 they make the Final Four, 2007 they make the Final Four. I think with [current head coach] Thad Matta, the way he's been able to recruit, they're going to be a player nationally for the foreseeable future,” said Pat Forde.
The Buckeyes and Jayhawks aren’t rivals. They’re more like acquaintances. They met earlier this season, but tonight’s matchup will be just their 10th game ever. The Jayhawks are led by big man Thomas Robinson and guard Tyshawn Taylor, who each average about 17 points a game. Ohio State features Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. In wins over Cincinnati and Syracuse, the two forwards combined for a total of 82 points.
In 2007, Matta guided the Buckeyes to the title game, but lost. After Ohio State’s win over Syracuse Saturday, Matta reflected on that last visit to the Final Four.
“I probably didn’t enjoy the moment as much as I wanted to or needed to. But truth be told, I probably won't enjoy this one either. We'll go down there and try to play our best basketball."
Coaches stressing out and losing sleep is as much a Final Four tradition as anything that happens on the court and there’s only one cure: cutting down the nets on Monday night.
This segment aired on March 31, 2012.