2012 Final Four Picks: Louisville vs Kentucky National Semifinal Odds and Predictions – Free Final Four Picks 3/31/2012: In-state rivals Louisville and Kentucky have met 43 times. On Saturday, two teams that don’t care too much for one another will meet for the first time in the Final Four. The atmosphere is going to be nothing short of electric, as two fan bases that hate the opposing team as much as they love their team are sure to have the Superdome deafening until the final buzzer sounds. The top-seeded Wildcats (36-2) are 8 ½-point favorites, but the fourth-seeded Cardinals (30-9) have already knocked off a No. 1 seed during the NCAA tournament on their surprise run to the Final Four. Not to mention that anything can happen when two bitter rivals get together, especially when a trip to the national title game is on the line.

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Saturday’s game is a rematch of an earlier meeting in Rupp Arena. The Wildcats won 69-92, but the Cardinals stayed within striking distance the entire game and actually controlled the pace. Kentucky’s frontcourt duo of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were next to unstoppable, combining for 42 points and 29 rebounds. Both players had double-doubles, and Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 24 points and 19 rebounds. Meanwhile, not a single Louisville starter scored more than eight points. A 30-point performance from guard Russ Smith off the bench carried the Cardinals’ offense.

To Louisville’s credit, the Cardinals’ defense did shut down all of the Wildcats not named Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist. Considering they are the top two NBA prospects, it is doubtful either of the Kentucky big men will be slowed down this weekend either. Despite getting torched in the paint, Louisville held the Wildcats to less than 30 percent shooting. It is nothing new for a Cardinals’ defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally in field goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal percentage. Louisville kept the powerful Kentucky offense in check once, and the Cardinals’ only chance of advancing is to do it again.

Of course, the Kentucky defense isn’t afraid to grind it out either. Davis is a shot blocking machine in the paint, and the Wildcats have length and athleticism at every position on the court. In the first meeting with Louisville, the Cardinals’ starters combined to make just eight shots. If Rick Pitino’s bunch is going to change the outcome, they have to find a way to generate some consistent offense. The pressure to do so is going to fall mainly on the team’s backcourt of Chris Smith and Peyton Siva. The two players made just four of their 23 shots in the loss to the Wildcats, and the Cardinals need both guards to create offense for themselves and the team’s post players.

The X-factor in the game could be the rebounding battle. Kentucky had a 49-28 edge on the boards in the first meeting, and while no Louisville player had more than five rebounds, three Wildcats reached double figures. In a rivalry game between two teams with stout defenses, second chance points and easy baskets will be crucial. The Wildcats’ size advantage and huge advantage on the glass could have a huge impact on the outcome.

Breaking down the two teams, it becomes clear that Kentucky has the edge in size and athleticism. That being said, the Cardinals are playing their best at the perfect time, they have the more experienced players, and they have Pitino on the sideline. He has been through plenty of big battles in March, and he knows what it takes to win a national title. Kentucky’s John Calipari is still trying to get over the hump. The Wildcats are the more talented team, and they should be able to get past the overachieving Cardinals. However, Louisville and its stingy defense is going to make their rivals work for it.

Prediction: Louisville Cardinals (+8 ½) Cover the Spread

NCAA TOURNAMENT VEGAS ODDS: Favorite: Kentucky -8.5 Total: Over/Under 136.5

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