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Vitale: Intrigue galore with Pitino, Tubby

Vitale: Kansas returns to Final Four form

Vitale: New coaches make impact

Vitale: Terps red-faced no more

Vitale: Adieu, Lou Henson

Vitale: Resilient Illini break down Badgers

Vitale: Coach K keys unbeaten Duke

Vitale: Unbeaten season for Illinois?

Vitale: Comeback could propel Pitt

Vitale: Kansas will learn from loss

Vitale: Injuries hit 'Nova hard

Vitale: Midseason report and awards

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Kentucky, Louisville define Bluegrass success


Feb. 1, 2005
Basketball is rolling big-time in the Bluegrass State these days, baby! Are you really shocked?

Kentucky has won six straight games and 12 of its past 13. The Wildcats (16-2, 7-0 SEC) are ranked No. 4 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (also No. 4 in my Jan. 31 V-Poll). Their two losses came against highly ranked North Carolina and Kansas.

Louisville has a seven-game winning streak and also has won 12 of its past 13 contests. The Cardinals (18-3, 6-1 C-USA) are ranked No. 9 in the coaches poll (No. 8 in my poll). Before their current 12-of-13 streak, their previous loss was to — you guessed it — Kentucky.

Rick Pitino
Coach Rick Pitino is back in the Big East as Louisville moves over from C-USA.
Next up for Louisville is a home game vs. C-USA rival Cincinnati on Wednesday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). The two schools are tied for first in Conference USA. Next up for Kentucky is a trip to Vanderbilt on Saturday (ESPN Full Court, 3 p.m. ET).

When you consider the success of these two programs over the years and the tradition they have both enjoyed, this season's records aren't surprising.

Think about the talent on their rosters — led by Kentucky senior Chuck Hayes and Louisville junior Francisco Garcia — and again, you can't be surprised by their success.

Think about the two leaders of these programs, Tubby Smith of Kentucky and Rick Pitino of Louisville, who already have national-championship rings — both with Kentucky!

Pitino won a national title in 1996 when he was at Kentucky, before he left for the NBA and the Boston Celtics. Smith won a national title in 1998, his first year at the Wildcats' helm. Smith was an assistant on Pitino's Kentucky staff from 1989-91 before he made head-coaching stops at Tulsa and Georgia.

The fans of these schools (in their blue and red, respectively) eat, sleep and drink college basketball. They have such a passion and love affair with hoops. Everybody is jacked up, baby!

Pitino has said, "Don't talk about us, talk about the Wildcats."

Sorry Mr. Pitino, you can't hide the numbers! The Cardinals have been awesome (with a capital A) in dominating opponents. Over the past four games, the average margin of victory is just under 40 points per game. Louisville is healthy, and the team has responded.

The Cardinals apply tremendous pressure on the basketball, and their traps are stifling. Offensively, this club shares the ball and distributes well, getting open looks. It is typical Pitino-style basketball.

The Wildcats are young, with nine underclassmen on the roster. And of the nine players who average double-digit minutes for Kentucky, six are underclassmen (four freshmen and two sophomores). But those youngsters will get better and better.
Pitino has said, "Don't talk about us, talk about the Wildcats."

Kentucky had a scare in its most recent game, a 68-67 win at Arkansas. But to have a great season you must survive games like that.

Winning close calls on the road builds character and confidence. The Wildcats' backs were against the wall vs. the Razorbacks, and junior Patrick Sparks made a key shot late.

Remember, Sparks was also key in Kentucky's 60-58 comeback victory at Louisville in December. Sparks scored 15 points in the last 7:20 — including three free throws with seven seconds left — to cap a Kentucky rally on the road.

The state of the roundball union in Bluegrass Country is as healthy as ever. Pitino and Smith wouldn't have it any other way. Wouldn't it be something if these teams hook up come NCAA Tournament time? Maybe it will happen in the Elite Eight!

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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