My UC-UL football preview piece began with famous words of literature. However, for Thursday night’s game that doesn’t seem appropriate. That matchup didn’t hold the same nervousness this one does. The Cardinals were already shut out of the BCS, just looking to find themselves in a lesser bowl. But Thursday’s clash carries more weight and meaning.
It’s yet another chance for the Cardinals to beat a ranked opponent. It’s likely the last chance to do so at home. Louisville desperately needs a win this Thursday night, to prove its recent progress wasn’t a mirage.
This is also the final time the Bearcats will come to Louisville as Conference foes. The programs first shared conferences nearly 50 years ago, when Louisville joined the Missouri Valley Conference in 1964. From there the two went on to the Metro Conference, Conference USA, the Big East and now the American Conference.
Thursday will be the 98th meeting between the two, and with some luck the rivalry will hit 100 before it is all said and done. The Cards lead the series 55-42, and 31-15 at home.
Louisville Athletics recognized the history behind the rivalry, and decreed Thursday be called “Throwback Night.” However, it became an empty announcement when it was added the team would not dawn the legendary “Dunking Cardinal” unis.
While it was expected he would play, Cinci was unsure whether Senior forward Justin Jackson would start against the Cards. Jackson injured his ankle on Saturday, and was questionable until Thursday morning. Jackson is averaging 11.1 points, 7 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks a game. While Sean Kilpatrick is getting much of the love for the Bearcats’ success, Jackson has proven to be a very valuable asset.
The Bearcats remain the lone undefeated team in the AAC, with Louisville hanging out just behind them. Not only will this game determine who’s in control of the conference, but also will go a long way in determining seeding for the NCAA Tournament. As the season enters the final stretch, both teams could really use this win.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Cinci boasts the fifth best defense in the league. They are choking, allowing just 56.9 points per game. The Cardinals however average 83.2 points per game. The game will be won and loss while Louisville has the ball. If the Cardinals can break the staunch Bearcats D, they will be on the fast track to victory.
The Cardinals enter Thursday’s matchup as a 9.5 point favorite. It is quite a gap for the two teams that always produce close battles. Vegas clearly values Louisville’s offense over Cinci’s defense.
Do you feel that uneasy feeling your stomach? That pit of worrying? That’s the nervous feeling and understanding that tonight’s game is essentially a must-win.
A victory Thursday proves that the recent improvements to Louisville’s play are legitimate. It shows that the Cardinals are back on the right track. Most importantly, it goes a long way into inserting Louisville back into the national title conversation.