Several weeks ago Mike Pratt told me that he thought Louisville was being underestimated not only by University of Kentucky fans, but also nationally.
His reasoning was that interim coach David Padgett did a solid job holding the program together last year after Rick Pitino was fired and left a good foundation for new coach Chris Mack, the former head coach at Xavier.
"The program was in disarray when Padgett took over and there was only so much he could do before a full-time coach took over," said Pratt, the former UK All-American who is the UK Radio Network analyst. "Last year was tough on Padgett but he got as much out of the team as he could and they have a lot of key guys that returned. They are a year older, year tougher. Now they have a coach who can hold their feet to the fire and I think they are going to be a lot better than many people think."
Certainly Kentucky fans were expecting not only a win at Louisville Dec. 29 when the season opened, but likely a relatively easy win. Now that has changed.
Kentucky lost in overtime Saturday to Seton Hall, a team Louisville beat by five points. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said UK was the more physical team but Louisville was by far the better shooting team.
Louisville knocked off Michigan State and had a chance to win at Indiana.
"They also hung with Tennessee and Tennessee is a heck of a team," Pratt said. "Louisville is gaining confidence and that's going to be a tough game for Kentucky."
Louisville's win over Michigan State did not shock Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy, either. He's known Mack for nearly 20 years and respects the way he coaches.
"I got to know Chris as young coach breaking into the business and got to know him very well when he was working for Sean Miller as his top assistant at Xavier and then as he became head coach there," DeCourcy said.
There is one given with Mack's team no matter where's coaching.
"One thing I can tell you beyond doubt is that Chris Mack does as well any coach in college basketball in getting his team to play with competitive toughness," DeCourcy said. "His kids do not back down. That is not optional in his program.
"Louisville basketball will be very entertaining with him as coach. His team's number one strength is toughness. Next would be a productive offense and getting good shooters good shots. They have to evolve on defense and that is not really his bread and butter but they are going to be a lot better than many people want to believe this year."
DeCourcy said Louisville offers "great facilities, great tradition" for Mack to use as shown by the surprisingly good first recruiting class he signed despite the threat of FBI and NCAA investigations hanging over the program.
"He is collecting talent. To be able to do what he has so far, Louisville fans should be excited," DeCourcy said.
Kentucky fans overall are not excited. The Cats lost by 34 points to Duke and then lost in overtime to a three-loss Seton Hall, the same team that lost by 23 points to Nebraska, at Madison Square Garden. Kentucky has seven wins but all were at home against teams not ranked in the top 75 by college basketball stat guru Ken Pomeroy. Kentucky is also 0-2 outside of Rupp Arena and must play Louisville in the Yum Center in Louisville a week after it plays North Carolina in Chicago,
Yet Kentucky coach John Calipari insisted he was not discouraged after the Seton Hall loss.
"All in all for our kids to fight in a quote 'road game' for us and give themselves a chance to win and go to overtime, we made strides. We're a better team than we were two weeks ago," Calipari said after the loss. "I am not discouraged in any way. I hate losing. I'm not discouraged but, you know, you have a chance to win that game. Win it."
It's just that winning that game in a couple of weeks at Louisville looks much, much more difficult for UK now than it did a few weeks ago when Kentucky was perceived to be one of the nation's best teams and Louisville thought to be a team that would struggle to beat top level teams this season.
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Western Hills standout Wandale Robinson, the state's top-ranked high school football player, disappointed a lot of Kentucky fans last week when he flipped his verbal commitment from Kentucky to Nebraska. He did it two days after being named the state's Mr. Football, one day after getting his All-American Bowl jersey and one day before he was named Gatorade Player of the Year and received the Paul Hornung Award.
Robinson verbally committed to UK on Nov. 1 in a ceremony at his school on the birthday of his cousin who passed away the previous month. He now admits a disagreement with the Nebraska coaching staff on Oct. 31 led to his initial commitment to UK.
"We had a little conversation when things didn't go over the way they should have but over time that relationship was repaired and I began to trust them (Nebraska coaches) again. I was ultimately able to make the decision that I really wanted to make the day I originally announced my commitment," Robinson said.
"Nebraska has always been my school. They were my school before I visited and once I visited, I was sold. I took all my visits to make sure I was 100 percent set on that but I was 100 percent set all the way until Oct. 31 and some things happened and I kind of fell under some pressure (to commit to UK), too.
"Before the conversation (with the Nebraska coaches on Oct. 31) I was sold on I was going to Nebraska. Then some things happened and I started to hear from a lot of people that day and things weren't going right. I couldn't tell everybody that I wanted to go out of state. Now I decided to be a man and own up to what I wanted to do."
Robinson said honoring his cousin by making his commitment on her birthday was important to him and his family but looking back he understands he should have postponed his decision.