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The Kentucky vs. Louisville basketball battle has moved to a new front

Mark Story
·4 min read

Fast-break points from the vaccination center:

21. Cats vs. Cards. The never-ceasing world of Kentucky vs. Louisville basketball contention has opened a new front. Whether UK or U of L fields the better team in 2021-22 might well depend on whether John Calipari or Chris Mack makes better use this offseason of the booming transfer portal.

20. UK starts strong. Already, Calipari has added two of the most coveted players moving via transfer.

19. Oscar Tshiebwe. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound West Virginia transfer joined UK mid-semester. Tshiebwe averaged 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds for Bob Huggins in 2019-20 and was considered one of the best freshmen in the country.

18. A tough go in 2020-21. A product of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tshiebwe was not as proficient this past season, averaging 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds before leaving the Mountaineers after 10 games.

17. Fills a void. For a UK roster that was long on tall and skinny but short on muscle during the Wildcats’ 9-16 slog this past season, the powerful Tshiebwe should be a godsend.

Kellan Grady averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists this past season at Davidson.
Kellan Grady averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists this past season at Davidson.

16. Kellan Grady. The 6-5, 205-pound graduate transfer from Davidson will give Kentucky one of the most-polished offensive players available in the transfer portal. A four-year starter, Grady has averaged 17.4 points for his career while shooting 47.2 percent, including 36.6 on three-point tries.

15. Grady vs. power-conference foes. In 12 career games against teams from major conferences (the football Power Five plus the Big East), Grady’s numbers are not quite as shiny. He has averaged 13.7 points while shooting 41.5 percent, including 30.5 on treys.

14. Grady vs. SEC foes. In four career games vs. SEC teams — including Davidson’s 78-73 loss to UK in the 2018 NCAA Tournament round of 64 — Grady has averaged 14.3 points on 17-for-50 shooting, 8-for-24 on three-point tries.

13. The task ahead. Having added a proven wing scorer and a supplier of interior muscle, Calipari still has an acute need, via the transfer portal or other means, to add a guard, maybe two, who can create offense off the dribble.

12. Louisville’s portal work has a theme. The three players U of L’s Mack has so far added via transfer are linked by a shared characteristic.

11. Matt Cross. The 6-7, 225-pound forward played only 14 games for Jim Larranaga’s Miami Hurricanes before apparently becoming disenchanted with playing time. However, in that time the Beverly, Mass., product (6.9 points, 3.5 rebounds) proved to be quite a proficient three-point shooter, hitting 20 of 50.

10. Showed U of L what he can do. In Miami’s 78-72 upset of then-No. 16 Louisville Jan. 16, Cross hit four of six treys en route to 16 points in 29 minutes.

9. Jarrod West. The 5-11, 181-pound former Marshall Thundering Herd standout continues the Mack-era practice — think Christen Cunningham, Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble and Carlik Jones — of Louisville adding a point guard each season via the graduate transfer route.

8. An all-around guard. As a senior this past season at Marshall, West averaged 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.5 steals.

7. An NCAA Tournament moment. As a freshman, West had nine points, four rebounds and two assists as the No. 13 seed Thundering Herd upset No. 4 seed Wichita State 81-75 in the 2018 NCAA tourney’s round of 64.

6. Another three-point shooter. Last season for Marshall, West made 41.5 percent (42 of 103) of his three-point tries. Over his college career, he has made 37.9 percent (220 of 581) of his attempted treys.

5. Noah Locke. The former Florida Gators sharpshooter is the third transfer so far to have committed to Louisville.

4. Consistency personified. In his three seasons as a Florida regular, the 6-3, 203-pound Locke averaged 9.4 points as a freshman, 10.6 as a sophomore and 10.6 this past year as a junior.

3. Struggled vs. Kentucky. For those looking ahead to this season’s edition of Cats-Cards, Locke has mostly struggled against UK. In six career contests against the Cats, he has made only 13 of 43 shots, nine of 31 three-point tries and has scored more than six points in a game only once — he had 14 in UK’s 71-70 come-from-behind win at Florida in the 2019-20 regular-season finale.

2. More perimeter power added. For his three-season college career, Locke is a 40.3-percent three-point shooter.

1. Using the portal to fix a problem. In missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Louisville (13-7) made only 30.8 percent of its treys. The Cardinals finished No. 297 in the nation in three-point-shooting percentage.

Mack is clearly seeking to address that glaring deficiency with talent available via transfer.

UK backers are hoping Calipari can do the same to address Kentucky’s glaring need for offensive creators in the backcourt.