-- Jay Bilas will call Saturday's meeting between the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (12-0) and No. 4 Louisville Cardinals (11-0) along with Dan Shulman and Shannon Spake (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2) . Below, Jay offers a scouting report on what's to come at the KFC Yum! Center.
John Calipari has the best and most powerful defensive team in the "one-and-done" era (1995-present), and perhaps beyond -- Kentucky is historically good on the defensive end of the floor. The Wildcats rank first in adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage defense (34.6), 2-point percentage defense (31.6) and block percentage (24.0). This is the biggest, longest and deepest defensive team assembled in recent memory. Heck, UK's guards are 6-foot-6 and long, let alone its frontcourt. While Kentucky plays without fouling, and does not put opponents on the free throw line, individuals can play without concern for foul trouble due to reinforcements coming in whenever needed.
To challenge the Wildcats, opponents cannot rely upon beating the Cats on an initial drive. Instead, you must break a defender down off the dribble, kick it out, and get a second pass for an open shot. Otherwise, Kentucky will play volleyball with an initial shot. And, while Kentucky can block and challenge shot after shot, that opens up the offensive glass for second shot opportunities. As well as they defend, the Wildcats rank 249th in the country in defensive rebounding, allowing opponents to get 33.5 percent of their missed shots for higher-percentage second looks.
Kentucky is not a great offensive team, and it does not shoot the ball particularly well from multiple spots. But Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker can all make perimeter shots, and Booker has been on a tear of late. The freshman has made eight of his past nine 3-point shots, and averaged 17 points per game in wins over North Carolina and UCLA.
The issue in playing Kentucky isn't whether you can stop or slow down the Wildcats. The issue is whether you can score enough points on them to win the game. Kentucky is holding opponents to under 50 points per game and has allowed only four opponents to score more than 50 points, and only two to score more than 52 points. Not a single Kentucky opponent has scored more than 70 points in a game. That is absolutely incredible.
1. Kentucky must take care of the ball against Louisville's full-court and half-court pressure, and not allow the Cardinals to get extra possessions and play ahead of the Wildcats' defense in advantage situations.
2. Kentucky must get back in transition and make Louisville play 5-on-5 against the Wildcat defense.
3. Louisville will play Kentucky in mostly zone defense, and one that can morph into man-to-man and confuse an opponent. Open shots will be hard to find in the half court, so Kentucky must get all over the offensive glass and get second shot opportunities. Kentucky is second in the nation in offensive rebounding, getting 45.5 percent of its misses, which are usually high-percentage second opportunities.
If not for Kentucky, the Cardinals would be considered the best defensive team in the country. Louisville is ranked second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, sixth in effective field goal percentage defense (38.7), seventh in turnover percentage (26.5), fourth in steals percentage (15.0) and fourth in block percentage (18.7).
The Cardinals have truly outstanding guards, led by Terry Rozier and Chris Jones, two of the best and most disruptive defenders in the country. Rozier is a pro, and is a strong, athletic and tremendous competitor on both ends of the floor. Rozier is a courageous driver, has a terrific floater, and is an excellent rebounder. He put up 32 points at Western Kentucky -- most of them after Montrezl Harrell was ejected -- and 16 points against Cal State Northridge. In addition, Wayne Blackshear has been a different and more productive player in his senior season. Blackshear came back this season in better shape and more committed, and put up 31 points against CSUN.
Harrell is the best big man in this game, but it is a close call with Willie Cauley-Stein. Harrell is an absolute beast -- a relentless rebounder, finisher and rim-runner, and he has extended his shooting range out to 3-point territory. However, if Cauley-Stein is assigned to Harrell, it could be a difficult game for the Louisville big man. Cauley-Stein has been the nation's best defender this season, and has guarded everyone from Providence's LaDontae Henton to Texas' Jonathan Holmes. Harrell is a player of the year candidate, but the question is, who else does he have alongside him to combat the deep and gigantic Kentucky front line? Louisville is thinner up front, in size and numbers, than Kentucky.
1. The Cardinals must be aggressive and force turnovers to generate scoring opportunities off their defense, and also force Kentucky to shoot over the top of its half-court defense.
2. Louisville must send all five guys to the defensive glass and not allow Kentucky to get second shots.
3. Louisville has to penetrate and kick it, as well as knock down open shots. The Cardinals cannot afford an average to poor shooting game against Kentucky. The Cardinals are 303rd in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (29.0). Guys like Rozier and Blackshear have to make perimeter shots for the Cards to get a win at home.