The last coach John Calipari wants to see on the other sideline is Indiana's Tom Crean.
“I don't like playing him anywhere,” Calipari said.
Friendship, you see, messes up competitive fire.
“I cannot stand playing friends because, if they win, I'm sick after the game,” Calipari said. “And if I win, I enjoy it, but I don't enjoy it because I know what they're going through because I know how it is.”
So how much enjoyment will Calipari get from Friday night's must-see South Regional Sweet 16 shown in Atlanta?
Don't kid yourself. It's all about winning.
Then there's the degree-of-difficulty factor. The memory of IU's dramatic 73-72 win over the Wildcats last December still burns.
That's why, after Kentucky had finished beating Iowa State last Saturday to clinch Friday night's rematch with the Hoosiers, Calipari offered this good-natured challenge to Crean:
“Tommy, if you're watching, I'm putting in new out-of-bounds plays. I'm going to put in side out-of-bounds and two new offenses because he will watch every tape and know everything that we're doing except for that stuff. He won't know that stuff.”
Calipari predicted the fourth-seeded Hoosiers (27-8) and top-seeded Wildcats (34-2) would be put in the same NCAA tourney regional before the draw was announced.
“I knew we were going to be playing him,” Calipari said. “No question. Has nothing to do with matchups or story lines or any of that. I knew we would be playing him.
“What I would hope is we were playing him for the (Elite Eight) game, but we're not.
“These are two storied programs. I can't tell you what my respect is with how he coaches and prepares.”
Crean's preparation paid off in December within the friendly confines of Assembly Hall. It was the youthful Wildcats' first true road game and they blinked just enough for one of the bigger regular-season wins in Cream and Crimson history. Now the teams will meet in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, a neutral site certain to be packed with UK and IU fans. Kentucky has the benefit of a SEC season full of road challenges and victories.
“We're better than we were,” Calipari said, “but so is Indiana. Tommy has done an unbelievable job. Think about where that program was and what he's got that thing going. He's got a great recruiting class coming in.”
While most experts projected IU to be re-emerge as a national contender next season, when a top-two recruiting classes joins a veteran group led by standout forwards Cody Zeller and Christian Watford, Calipari said he saw this success coming before the start of the season.
“I said in the beginning of the year they'd be a top-five program in short order. Everybody looked at me and thought I was crazy. Shoot, they may be top-five right now. They've got terrific players. They've got competitors. And as far as preparation, you're not going to have a better coach than Tom. He's as good as they get.”
Preparation might not be enough against a talented Kentucky lineup that includes forward Anthony Davis, the U.S. Basketball Writers' Association's national player of the year. The 6-9, 220-pound freshman also was the SEC player of the year and the SEC defensive player of the year. He's just the second freshman to ever win the USBWA's Oscar Robertson Trophy, joining Texas' Kevin Durant, who won in 2007.
Davis leads the nation with 166 blocks. He averages 14.3 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting 63.6 percent from the field. He's totaled 18 double doubles.
Foul trouble limited Davis to six points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes in the first game with IU. Forward Terrance Jones, who averages 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, was a no-show with four points and one rebound.
The Hoosiers can't count on a repeat Friday night.
Yes, the Wildcats remember that defeat, and if they don't, an ESPN commercial that shows Watford's buzzer-beating three-pointer reminds them.
“I hate that commercial,” forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist told USA Today. “We're going to get them back.”
UK guard Marquis Teague, the former Indianapolis Pike standout who was recruited heavily by the Hoosiers, wouldn't go quite that far -- publicly.
“We're ready to play IU,” he said. “They beat us the last time, but we're going to take it like another game, come out and play hard. We'll do whatever it takes to win.”