Chris Mack can become a hometown hero in Louisville with a win over Kentucky | Zagsblog
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Monday / May 20.
  • Chris Mack can become a hometown hero in Louisville with a win over Kentucky

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    Chris Mack was coaching Xavier last year when Kentucky destroyed Louisville by 29 points at Rupp Arena.

    Now that Mack will coach Louisville against Kentucky for the first time in the Bluegrass rivalry, he has a chance to become a hometown hero real quick if his squad can knock off No. 16 Kentucky in a nationally-televised game on Saturday afternoon (2 ET, ESPN2).

    “Based on his connection to the Louisville fan base already and the Cards’ terrific recruiting class coming in, Chris Mack is playing with house money right now,” ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla told me. “A win over Kentucky would propel his early popularity to even new heights.”

    Added ESPN’s Jay Bilas, who will call the game with Dan Shulman: “Chris understands big rivalry games. Nothing is more intense and hate filled than Xavier-Cincinnati. He’s trying to establish his program’s identity in this one, an identity of toughness and execution. This game isn’t about talent. It’s about establishing UL’s toughness.”

    Kentucky is 9-1 against Louisville in the John Calipari Era and Kentucky is a one-point favorite in this game, according to 

    Mack wants his players who remember last year’s game to internalize what that 29-point beatdown felt like.

    “I wasn’t in the locker room,” Mack said Friday at his press conference leading up to the Kentucky game. “I wasn’t on the sidelines. I wasn’t a part of the chemistry here. So I haven’t used it a lot. As a competitior, if you haven’t internalized that and thought about that 90-61 ass-whupping then I don’t want you on my team.”

    Louisville (9-3) has won six of its last seven games, including wins over then-No. 9 Michigan State and a Seton Hall team which went on to beat Kentucky at Madison Square Garden, and then won at Maryland.

    After getting blown out by 34 points on opening night against Duke, Calipari and No. 16 Kentucky (9-2) have won nine of their last 10 games, winning 80-72 over then-No. 9 North Carolina in their last game on Dec. 22.

    “This is why you come to Louisville, to play in games like this,” Mack said. “It’s the best non-conference game in the entire country. If you’re not playing and you’re a college basketball player or a coach, you’re tuning in to the game, and so who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? That’s why it’s hard to get a ticket.”

    Kentucky is second in the nation in rebound margin (+12.7), third in free throws made per game (20.8) and 11th in the nation in blocked shots (5.6 per game).

    Mack said he’s concerned about the Kentucky bigs — Reid Travis, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards — but he knows the guards and wings are what makes the Wildcats go.

    “Well listen, they’re an inside/out team,” Mack said. “But every guy out there is a five-star. Every guy out there was as highly recruited as any kid in the country, so there’s great concern.

    [Ashton] Hagans proved it against North Carolina when he was the best player on the floor at times and it didn’t have anything to do with scoring. He dominated the game defensively. You look at Tyler Herro and he’s a guy that takes the most shots on their team. They run a lot of actions for him andhe can heat up in a second. And then Keldon Johnson’s a Top 10 pick. So if you ask me if I have any concerns outside of their post players, absolutely not.”

    Speaking of Top 10 picks, 16 NBA scouts are expected at the game.

    From the Kentucky side of things, they have a chance to back up the North Carolina win with a road victory over their most hated opponent.

    A loss at Louisville surely won’t go over well with #BBN.

    “One fan told us that you can lose every game, as long as you don’t lose the Louisville game,” Herro told Stadium’s Jeff Goodman after the North Carolina game.

    If Mack does pull out the win, he’ll be a hero in Louisville.

    And he may want to celebrate by going to see Tyler Childers play at the sold-out Louisville Palace Saturday night.

    “If we win,” he told me recently, “I’ll go anywhere you want.”

    Photo: ESPN

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.