We’re fresh off of a light holiday college basketball week, but there was one huge game that grabbed America’s attention during the past seven days: Louisville vs. Kentucky.
RANKINGS: Full AP Top 25
The Cardinals prevailed in a back-and-forth tilt, as they played sound defense and got a huge performance from Quentin Snider at home. For their efforts, the Cards vaulted to No. 6 in this week’s AP Top 25; beyond that, not much changed in this week’s rankings. Kentucky, ranked sixth last week, now checks in at No. 8.
Louisville basketball isn’t always pretty, but Rick Pitino’s squad has put together quite a résumé thus far. The Cardinals boast the nation’s No. 1 defense, and they’ve knocked off the likes of Kentucky, Purdue and Wichita State; their lone setback came against No. 4 Baylor by three points.On Wednesday night, Louisville showed everyone exactly what it is. It won’t overwhelm you with offense. Even in a mightily impressive win, the Cardinals still had several head-scratching possessions.
But easy baskets simply cease to exist against Louisville; Malik Monk, fresh off of a 47-point outing against North Carolina, went 1-of-9 from 3-point range against the Cardinals. Pitino knew the Wildcats couldn’t really shoot outside of Monk, so he cramped the paint, and the Cardinals’ (seemingly) unlimited supply of rim-protectors took care of the rest against Kentucky.
On the offensive end, Louisville just keeps on chipping away until they find a crack in the defense. The Snider, Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel perimeter trio hasn’t been efficient this season, but all are talented players; Snider had a breakout game against Kentucky. That’s the beauty of having a defense like Louisville’s. It only takes one of Snider, Mitchell or Adel to pop for the Cards to be successful; you know you’ll get excellence on the defensive end of the floor, and that’s a reliable recipe for Louisville victories.
There wasn’t a whole lot of movement elsewhere in this week’s rankings, but Florida joined the fray as the new No. 25 team. The advanced metrics love the Gators. Mike White’s squad is ranked 14th in KenPom; Florida boasts top-25 units on both ends of the floor, and its three losses are completely reasonable: at Florida State and neutral-site games against Duke and Gonzaga.
Folks are down on the SEC this season, and that’s fair, but to take the "ignore every team except Kentucky" approach is irresponsible. Florida may not win the conference, but it can beat anybody. White is a rising star as a coach, and the Gators have five players who average nine points per game or more. Combine that with a rock-solid defensive infrastructure, and something interesting could be brewing in Gainesville.
Conference play begins on Tuesday, and we have some heavyweight matchups to look forward to this week. Don’t get used to this rare tranquility in the college basketball rankings world. Things are about to be different.