Tobacco Road hasn’t changed much during the course of time. The trail that separates Atlantic Coast Conference rivals North Carolina and Duke is the same as it has always been — short and full of history.
The Kentucky-Louisville basketball series dates back to 1984 and although its rivalry is short compared to Duke and North Carolina, no other instate contest compares when it comes to drama the instate programs have produced in the past three decades. Former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino deepened the divide when he took over at Louisville and many fans considered it an eighth sin to see their former coach wearing shades of red.
Since Pitino's departure, the rivalry remains intense, but the hatred has seemingly chilled during the past three years. Kentucky fans still consider Louisville the top rival on the schedule, the number of traditional rivals has dwindled.
Kentucky still plays Power-5 teams in the State Farm Champions Classic (Michigan State, Kansas and Duke) and the CBS Sports Classic (North Carolina, UCLA and Ohio State) on a rotating basis, but there aren’t many home-and-home blockbuster series’ remaining.
The yearly events are entertaining and gives non-traditional fans an opportunity to see the Wildcats and other bluebloods compete against each other. A home-and-home series against those six programs is virtually impossible but there are some other regional teams worth a look, especially Indiana.
In the past, the Wildcats and Hoosiers traditionally played on a yearly basis, but Indiana’s reaction following a 73-72 upset over Kentucky, which was No. 1 at the time, forced John Calipari to take another look at the series. Indiana stormed the court at Assembly Hall, putting Kentucky coaches and players in harm’s way.
The two schools have only met twice since then – both in the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2016— and there’s no glimpse of a possible renewal between the two schools in the future. The only way this could possibly happen is by playing at a neutral site such as Louisville or Indianapolis.
Back in the day, Kentucky and Notre Dame played on a semi-regular basis, rotating between South Bend, Indianapolis, Louisville and Lexington. During the1970s, the two teams played at Freedom Hall in Louisville, a neutral site for both teams. If Indiana is totally out of the picture, why not renew the Notre Dame rivalry?
How about a home-and-home with Cincinnati or even West Virginia? Although within close proximity, Kentucky and Cincinnati have never been rivals in the modern era, although the two schools played each other often in the 1940s. Kentucky defeated the Bearcats in the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and a decade later in 2015. Xavier also could be a possibility, considering the two schools haven’t played each other since 1969.
When Kentucky visited Morgantown to play West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in 2018, the contest had a natural feel to it, even though the Wildcats hadn’t played at West Virginia since edging the Mounties, 106-100 in 1971.
Wouldn’t it be fun to see Bob Huggins visit Rupp Arena? You can always dream, even when you revisit the past with an eye on the future.
Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.