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Can Kentucky regain its blue-blood rivalry mojo?

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 12/19/2018 By Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader
a group of people standing next to a person in a suit and tie: Head coach John Calipari, left, of Kentucky shakes hands with Kansas head coach Bill Self prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament finals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on April 2, 2012, in New Orleans. © John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS Head coach John Calipari, left, of Kentucky shakes hands with Kansas head coach Bill Self prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament finals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on April 2, 2012, in New Orleans.

One of the unusual aspects about coaching or playing men's basketball at Kentucky is that how the Wildcats fare in conference games is not what sets the mood of UK fans toward their team.

When, like UK, you have won 48 regular-season Southeastern Conference titles and 31 SEC Tournament championships, your fan base takes those achievements as a given.

At Kentucky, it is how the Cats fare against UK's peer group of college hoops blue bloods - Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina and UCLA - that sets the temperature in the Big Blue Nation.

The bad news for Coach John Calipari's 2018-19 Wildcats (8-2) is they began this season absorbing a 118-84 bludgeoning from Duke that took a lot of steam out of the BBN.

The good news is that the next two Kentucky games, against North Carolina on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago and at Louisville on Dec. 27, are versus the two "peer-group rivals" that UK has had the most success against under Calipari.

With those two blue-blood battles dead ahead, it seems an opportune time to run some "rivalry diagnostics" and see how UK stands against its peers among the historically elite of college hoops:

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Duke

All-time series: Kentucky leads 12-10.

NCAA Tournament games: UK leads 3-2.

In the Calipari era: Duke leads 2-1 since the 2009-10 season.

The current trend: Duke has won eight of its 10 most recent meetings with Kentucky.

Scoping the rivalry: Before Mike Krzyzewski (6-2 against the Wildcats), UK led the all-time series with the Dukies 10-4.

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Kansas

All-time series: Kentucky leads 22-9.

NCAA Tournament games: UK leads 2-1.

In the Calipari era: The series is tied 3-3 since the 2009-10 season.

The current trend: Kansas has won three in a row.

Scoping the rivalry: Before Bill Self (6-3 against the Wildcats), UK led the all-time series 19-3. This season, Kentucky and Kansas will face each other Jan. 26 in Rupp Arena as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

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Indiana

All-time series: Kentucky leads 32-25.

NCAA Tournament games: UK leads 3-2.

In the Calipari era: The Wildcats lead 3-2 since the 2009-10 season.

The current trend: Indiana has won two of the past three.

Scoping the rivalry: The two most recent meetings between the Wildcats and Hoosiers have come in the NCAA Tournament. To the chagrin of Dick Vitale and other hoops traditionalists, the flagship universities of bordering states where college basketball is the No. 1 sport have not faced each other in a regular-season game since 2011-12.

For all of us who have enough life seasoning to remember the 1970s and early '80s, when the annual showdown between UK and IU was the most fierce non-conference rivalry in college hoops, that's a shame.

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Louisville

All-time series: Kentucky leads 35-16 (in the modern rivalry, beginning in 1982-83, the Cats lead 26-13).

NCAA Tournament games: UK leads 4-2.

In the Calipari era: The Wildcats lead 9-2 since the 2009-10 season.

The current trend: Kentucky has won five of the past six.

Scoping the rivalry: On Dec. 27, new Louisville coach Chris Mack gets his first chance to alter the arc of Cats vs. Cards. As Xavier's head man, Mack went 6-3 against archrival Cincinnati.

Neither of Mack's Hall of Fame predecessors at U of L, Denny Crum (7-13) nor Rick Pitino (6-12), had robust success against UK.

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North Carolina

All-time series: North Carolina leads 24-15.

NCAA Tournament games: UNC leads 3-1.

In the Calipari era: Kentucky leads 5-3 since the 2009-10 season.

The current trend: UK has won four of the past six.

Scoping the rivalry: In his iconic coaching career, North Carolina's Dean Smith dominated Kentucky, going 13-3 vs. the Wildcats. Since Smith retired after the 1996-97 season, UK is 9-8 vs. the Tar Heels.

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UCLA

All-time series: Kentucky leads 8-7.

NCAA Tournament games: UK leads 2-1.

In the Calipari era: UCLA leads 3-2 since the 2009-10 season.

The current trend: UCLA has won three of the past four.

Scoping the rivalry: Kentucky and UCLA played the most consequential game in Wildcats men's basketball history when the Wildcats and Bruins met in the 1975 NCAA Championship Game.

In what was the final game coached by UCLA's legendary John Wooden, the Bruins bested coach Joe B. Hall's Wildcats, 92-85, to give Wooden his 10th NCAA title in 12 years.

Currently, UCLA leads Kentucky in NCAA championships 11-8.

Reverse the outcome of that 1975 title game, and it would be UCLA 10, UK nine - and the Wildcats' chances of passing the Bruins for the mantle of "most NCAA championships won" would be markedly greater.

Visit the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) at www.kentucky.com

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