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This is the final part of a series with media members offering their opinions on Kentucky’s season.

Question: Do you think, in general, Kentucky fans are still solidly sold on what John Calipari is doing and has done at UK or do you sense some uneasiness after the last two seasons?

Ryan Lemond: “There has definitely been some uneasiness lately, and I think even Cal would admit it’s justified. There is no way this team should have underachieved the way it did this year. No way! I think UK fans love Cal. They believe in him, but the last two seasons have been a disappointment in everybody’s book. That’s gotta change. I would still take a national championship for two underachieving years, but most fans can’t do it. Win, and win now, and win a lot!”

Larry Glover: “I think all would agree he can really coach. You don’t get to Final Fours at three schools without really knowing what you’re doing.  However, some are legitimately questioning the ‘restocking the roster with freshman every year’ as the best long term approach. I think a balance between experience and talent needs to be struck.

“Honestly,  I think his promoting UK as a ‘Player First Program’ is a bigger issue for lot of folks in the BBN. Some of his quotes on the matter are giving the impression that winning games and championships are not a high priority.  I don’t share that point of view. I think Cal is very motivated to win big. I think he feels, and I share this opinion, that if you recruit and produce great talent … titles will come as a result.”

Keith Taylor: “Based on what I have heard there are some doubts about the one-and-done players. Fans miss the connection they had with four-year players. I sense they are missing the bonding and building relationships with the veteran teams and an experienced team.”

Tyler Thompson: “I think most of the fan base is still on board with Calipari. Given the right ingredients (talented freshmen plus veteran leaders), his recipe hasn’t just proven successful, it’s won Kentucky its eighth national championship.

“I think the one thing UK fans have learned this season is that you can’t rely on freshmen alone. The learning curve is too steep. Cal’s first three teams at UK have all had veteran players step up and give valuable contributions. Back in 2010, it was Patrick Patterson; 2011 Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins; 2012 Darius Miller. Even last year, Julius Mays tried to put the team on his back after Nerlens Noel went down. Coming into this season, most of us thought Willie Cauley-Stein or Alex Poythress would take that role, but so far, neither have, and the lack of leadership haunts this group. In turn, the freshmen have been expected to do it all on their own, and unfortunately, none of them are Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, two unique players mature beyond their years.

“Fortunately for Calipari and Kentucky, there is talk that the one-and-done rule may give way to a two-year rule, which would improve things immensely.”

Mary Jo Perino: “I think there’s definitely been a referendum on one and done players, but I don’t think that’s the problem. You don’t turn any of these guys away and you don’t truly know who will stay and who will go. But I do think there are some fans fed up with it. On the whole, it’s really tough for me to have a legit conversation with someone who really doesn’t think Cal is the guy for the job. I still believe he is 100 percent. Now if this happens again next year.”

Mark Buerger: “Not based on what I hear on Sundays. The tiny minority that wants a new coach is out on the far limit of sanity, but when you make a big production of telling a passionate and dedicated fan base that you are going to run the program they love in a new way and immediately follow it with seasons like the last two, you pretty much invite people to ask questions.”

Jennifer Palumbo: “UK fans want the team to compete for a national championship every season. Obviously last season was disappointing, but it also showed how hard it is to create the 2012 level of success. I think most rational fans appreciate that Cal is doing everything he can to bring the best players to UK.  The preseason hype by recruiting analysts and the media raised Big Blue Nation expectations to unrealistic heights. Every time I heard 40-0 talk, I cringed.  I want Coach Cal and the Cats to believe they can win every game, but that can be their goal. And if it ever happens, I’ll be first in line for the T-shirt.”

Tom Leach: “There’s always going to be uneasiness when things don’t go well.  Fans set the bar high at Kentucky but that’s why this program continues to win championships through almost every coaching transition.  Kentucky fans love to get to know the players and so they, along with Calipari, would love to see the rules changed to enable players to stay in the program longer.  I think the overwhelming majority of fans–when not in the moments after a loss–would say they believe in Calipari but they’d like to see that “tweak” in the rules that would provide a little more continuity of rosters and add a little more experience to each team.”

Kentucky forward Julius Randle (30) shoots over a Georgia defense during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinal round of the Southeastern Conference men's tournament, Saturday, March 15, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Kentucky forward Julius Randle (30) shoots over a Georgia defense during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinal round of the Southeastern Conference men’s tournament, Saturday, March 15, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

This is the third in a series of stories on the Kentucky season with various media members offering their insights as UK gets set to start NCAA play.

Question: Do you see any scenario where UK could make the Final Four this year after starting the season No. 1?

Ryan Lemond: “Not a chance in France. Only if all the other teams come down with a month long flu bug. There is no way this team has showed me anything to indicate they are a final four team, especially finishing out the season losing three of their last four and nearly four of their last five. No way.”

Larry Glover: “For UK to make the Final Four, they would need a really favorable draw in terms of match ups and the region would need to fall apart a little bit. They also needed to escape the dreaded 7 to 10 seed zone. If so, they would avoid 1 and 2 seeded teams in the first weekend.  That would be a big help.”

Keith Taylor: “No. They would have to make a total transformation from the last two weeks of the season. They haven’t fared well against ranked teams. Do not see any reason to believe it all changes now, especially if opposing teams apply consistent pressure and get the Cats rattled.”

Tyler Thompson: “I think the only way it could have happened is if they won the SEC Tournament. For a group this young, momentum is everything. In my opinion, 95 percent of this team’s problems have been mental, which is completely understandable given their youth and the unreasonable expectations. For this group, it’s never ‘can they beat someone,’ it’s ‘will they beat someone,’ and if they had banded together to win the SEC, they may have finally cleared that mental hurdle and realized their full potential.”

Mary Jo Perino: “No, just being honest. The blueprint on how to beat UK is already out there and established, as much as that pains me to say.”

Mark Buerger: “None. They have shown no sign that they can put together any kind of run, especially against better teams.”

Jennifer Palumbo: “If nothing else, this college basketball season shows anything can happen. At the beginning of the season, who said the only undefeated team would be Wichita State?  I’m not saying UK will be in the Final Four, but why not?”

Tom Leach: “Yes.  Several times this season, I have cited Kentucky’s record in comparison to Michigan’s Fab Five group of 1992 (the only team to start five freshmen in a national championship game).  The overall records and the records against quality teams are quite similar and that ’92 Michigan team seemed to catch fire in the NCAA Tournament and each win fed their momentum.  And that Michigan group was a 6-seed that year.  The odds are against UK making that kind of run but could it happen?  Absolutely.  The seed is not as big a deal if the team gets its game right and we certainly saw signs of that last week in Atanta.”

uk-ul-logo1By LARRY VAUGHT

Seven Lexington-based media members — WLEX-TV sports anchor Alan Cutler (@cutler18), WKYT-TV news anchor Jennifer Palumbo (@JenNimePalumbo), Kentucky Sports Radio analyst Ryan Lemond (@ryanlemond), UK radio play-by-play announcer Tom Leach (@tomleachKY), WLAP Sunday Morning sports talk host Mark Buerger (@meisterbuerger), Winchester Sun sports editor Keith Taylor (@keithtaylor21) and Larry Glover Live sports talk host Larry Glover (@larrygloverlive) — offer their insights on Saturday’s Kentucky-Louisville game and who they think will win in a five-part series this week.

Now the game picks from Cutler, Leach, Glover and Taylor:

Cutler: “UK because it’s at Rupp.”

Glover: “I think UK gets the win. Frankly, I’m not sure how good Louisville is because in their only game against a quality team (North Carolina) they looked overmatched. On the other hand, the Cats played North Carolina on the road and seemed far more equipped to beat the Tar Heels, despite all of their flaws. Plus, Rupp will be electric in a way that we’ve only seen a few times. The atmosphere will energize the young players so the effort and energy, that sometimes disappears, will be there.

“Also, because it’s bitter rivalry game, I expect the referees will call it tight to maintain control and that hurts UofL more than Kentucky.  Louisville’s grit and UK’s youth will keep it fairly close but the Cats will pull away and win it 83-71.”

Leach: “The game being played in Rupp may give Kentucky the extra edge to get the win against the Cards. This will be the first ‘big’ game that Kentucky has had on its home floor this season and I would expect Big Blue Nation to bring its ‘A’ game.”

Taylor: “Because of experience and based on Kentucky’s games against Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, I have to give Louisville the slight edge. Cards win a close one, 72-68.”

uk-ul-logo1Question: Who do you think wins the Kentucky-Louisville game Saturday and why?

Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “Louisville. They are the better team.”

Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “With so many factors working in its favor, Louisville should win at this point in the season, especially with the homecourt advantage.   But I’m also confident Kentucky’s talented freshmen will start to jell as a group and if that starts to happen by Saturday, the Wildcats would have a chance to win a close one.”

Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Louisville. They’re playing much more together than Kentucky is, and a hundred times more sound defensively. The Cards have plenty of motivation this year after what happened in April, and they’re playing at home.”

Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “Kentucky will win because the Cats owns the series and Cal owns Pitino.”

Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “Louisville. At home. Play better as a team. Way more experience in games like this.”

Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “I think the Cardinals will win the game. If UK takes care of the ball then they can take it to the wire but if they fold under the pressure then it will be a runaway win for U of L. One thing to keep an eye on, the longer UK hangs around the more the pressure builds for U of L late in the game.”

Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “I am predicting a 50-49 win for U of L. I still don’t think UK has ‘found themselves’ yet, but they are getting closer. I think it’s going to be an ugly game, and the uglier the better for U of L’s chances to finally get a win over Cal’s Cats.”

Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “I think Louisville wins this year on the fact that they have a more experienced team and have a proven outfit. They have shown that they can win on the road and also at home, which also is a plus for the Cards. Kentucky hasn’t proven it can overcome a hostile environment and Louisville will be a much-tougher place to play than Notre Dame. I give the nod to Louisville, 75-64.”

And ESPN analyst Dick Vitale is also predicting a 77-70 Louisville victory.

Question: What are the chances both Kentucky and Louisville could make the Final Four again this year?

Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “Somewhere close to zero. I think there’s a decent chance that neither one does. Louisville has trouble scoring from time to time. I think that could ruin them come tournament time. Kentucky just doesn’t look like any kind of threat to get that good by the end of the season. I know they didn’t look like a threat two years ago at this time, but for some reason I don’t see this team making the kind of strides that team made.”

Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “There’s a good chance because both teams are talented and well-coached.”

Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “I would think Louisville’s chances are very good–veteran team with Final Four experience, likelihood of a top two seeding.  This Kentucky team will likely be in a similar position to the one two years ago, where some early setbacks left them with a number four seed so they would probably have to beat two or three higher seeds to make it to Atlanta.  Logically, their prospects of making three Final Fours in a row would not be as bright–but that group two years ago should  have taught us not to write this team off yet.”

Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “Louisville has better odds, than Kentucky. The Cardinals have a chip on their shoulder after last year’s loss to Kentucky in the Final Four and wants to prove they belong among the top four teams in the nation this year. Barring a total meltdown in the Big East, the Cardinals likely will open the NCAA Tournament at Rupp Arena and have an easier road to the Georgia Dome than UK at this point. In order to improve its chances, Kentucky needs to climb back into the Top 25 and compete flawlessly in the SEC. The room for error is a small one.”

Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “It’s so tough to get there for any team.  I give Louisville the better chance.  They’ve got guys who have been there before. It will be much tougher for UK to get there.”

Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “ I think U of L’s Final Four run last year was kind of a fluke. They really weren’t very good at the end of the season last year (remember the 35 blowout loss to Providence), but they got ‘hot’ at the right time and made a good run. This year there is no denying that they are pretty good. With Dieng they are a Final Four caliber team, but they don’t have that outside scoring threat this year.  So I am predicting Louisville will not make the Final Four.
“I also can’t predict a Final Four for UK.  There are just too many red flags here at the midway point of the season for me to think they can make a Final Four run. I think they will have a great SEC run this year because the SEC is really down, and I think UK is going to only get better and better.
“If I had to lay odds in Vegas on either team reaching the Final Four, I would say: UK 55 percent and U of L 70 percent.”

Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Louisville has a great chance to go far in the tournament this year, barring any season-ending injuries that just seem to have happened to the Cards over the last few years. I’ll be expecting them in the Final Four. Kentucky undoubtedly has the raw talent to make it to the Final Four again, but it all depends on how Calipari continues to develop this team mentally, as well as Ryan Harrow’s continued improvement.”

Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “There’s a far better chance that neither team makes it than both teams making it.  Strangely, these two programs , as good as they are, are rarely title worthy at the same time.  They’ve been to the final four at the same time only twice since 1975.”

Next: Who will win the game?

uk-ul-logo1Question: Which team has the most pressure on it to win this year?

Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “ Louisville.  They’re going to be favored and with such a big experience edge and the homecourt, they have more things working in their favor than at any other time in Cal’s time at Kentucky.”

Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “If Pitino can’t beat Calipari Saturday then U of L fans will have to wonder if he ever will.  Rick is 0-4 against Cal and 2-7 in the last 9 games against Kentucky.  Plus, he’s not likely to win next either with the game at Rupp and Cal poised to bring in the best class ever  That means the pressure is all on the Cardinals.”

Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “ No doubt it’s Louisville. They’ve lost four in a row to their arch-nemesis and arch-rival.  They lost two games to them last year.  They lost in the Final Four to them last season.  They lost two years ago at the YUM Center to UK when it was supposed to be the big ‘christening’ of their new home. It’s Pitino’s old school. It’s Pitino’s old protege. Everything about this game puts all the pressure on U of L, but the biggest reason has to be that if Pitino doesn’t win this one, he may never beat Calipari at UK. UK is going to stay at top caliber team. U of L may never have this talent level again … ever.”

Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “ Louisville.”

Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “Louisville, no doubt.  They’ve lost to Cal three straight years and are supposed to be the much better team. Pitino can’t lose this game.”

Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Kentucky. Coming off a national championship and a Final Four win against Louisville, the Cats are still seen as being the top dogs and expected by UK fans to beat Louisville (always). Louisville has almost flown under the radar this year, even with their national ranking. Kentucky has much more to prove this time around, especially after they fell out of the top 25.”
Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “I’ll say Louisville, but only because everybody expects them to win. Kentucky needs this game to prove it can beat somebody good.”

Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “Louisville has more to lose since the Cardinals are having what has been a banner season so far. A loss would drop Louisville in the polls, while a win for Kentucky would land the Cats back into the Top 25 going into the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule. Kentucky hasn’t fared well on the road this year and a victory at Louisville would give the young squad confidence going into the SEC. Louisville has lost four in a row to the Wildcats, including twice last year.”

Next: What are the chances both teams could reach the Final Four again this year?

uk-ul-logo1By LARRY VAUGHT

With Louisville and Kentucky renewing their rivalry Saturday in Louisville, oddsmakers agree that this is the year Rick Pitino’s Cardinals finally beat John Calipari. Since arriving at UK, Calipari is 4-0 against Louisville, including a win in the Final Four last year when the Cats won the national championship. However, this year No. 4 Louisville is a solid favorite over unranked Kentucky, which has already lost to Duke, Baylor and Notre Dame. Three previous times in this series when Louisville was ranked this highly and UK was unranked, the Cardinals won each time.

Various media members who cover Kentucky basketball regularly shared their thoughts and insights on the game.

Question: Who will be the best player on the court for the UK-Louisville game?

Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “The best player on the court will be Louisville guard Russ Smith. Ten games into the season, Smith was averaging 20.2 points per game. Containing Smith will be a key for Kentucky to have a chance to beat the Cardinals at the KFC Yum!Center.”

Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “Peyton Siva will be the best player on the court, but I believe Nerlens Noel has the best potential.”

Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “Often, in this game, the star player is someone we would not have forseen — think Josh Harrellson two years ago.  If Kentucky wins, I’m thinking it will be Alex Poythress.  If Louisville does indeed lack its primary shot blocker, Poythress could be hard to handle in the lane, if he brings his ‘A’ game.”

Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “I don’t think there’s ever been a harder year to answer this question. Logic says Siva, but he’s always prone to one of those two-assist, six-turnover games he has occasionally. Last time we saw Alex Poythress against a big-name opponent, he was probably the best player on the court. Will that Alex come back? So I’ll go with Russ Smith.”

Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “ I think the best player on the floor will be Nerlens Noel, especially if Giorgi Dieng doesn’t play for U of L. I think Noel just keeps getting better and better each time out.  He’s already played pretty well against some other big guys this year — Plumley at Duke, Cooley at Notre Dame and Maryland’s big guy. Just as the U of L game was Josh Harrellson’s coming out party two years ago at the YUM Center, it’s going to be Noel’s turn this year to show the world why he’s considered one of the top two picks in the NBA draft this year.”

Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “Archie Goodwin.”

Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “I’m not sure if he’ll be the best player on the floor but I think Ryan Harrow will be the most important player on the floor.  Kentucky simply cannot turn the ball over.  If UK takes care of the basketball, it will create scoring opportunities for the Cats and that will limit easy opportunities for the Cardinals, who struggle to put the ball in the basket.”

Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Nerlens Noel might be the most natural talent on the court, but Russ Smith has also been playing great lately and is sure to provide some matchup issues for Kentucky.”

Coming next: Which team has the most pressure on it Saturday?

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