DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Archie Goodwin all starred in their Dream Game debuts. Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague and Nerlens Noel, on other hand, had quiet games as they learned the intensity of the intra-state showdown firsthand.
Another group of youngsters will be going through that process again on Saturday in Rupp Arena, but there's one freshman who already has a good idea what he's getting into.
"It's a rivalry team that usually Kentucky fans don't like at all," Dominique Hawkins said of the Cardinals. "And this win's probably one of the biggest wins just for a regular-season game."
Hawkins, a Richmond, Ky., native, knows what he's talking about because he grew up a UK fan. While he was home for Christmas, his mother reminded him of a UK-U of L game during his youth that gives some insight into the emotion woven into the fabric of the rivalry.
"My mom just told me that I was crying one game," Hawkins said. "I can't really remember, but I think I was really little when I was crying that game."
The freshman guard spent much of his childhood dreaming of wearing Kentucky blue against the Cardinals, but as recently as this spring it seemed unlikely he would ever get that chance. After playing his way into a scholarship offer at the Sweet Sixteen in March, Hawkins is living a Bluegrass dream.
"It's hard to describe what it really means to me because as a kid growing up in Kentucky you want to be able to play for Kentucky and play against Louisville and hopefully beat them," Hawkins said. "It just means a lot to me."
Hawkins has tried to tell his teammates about the rivalry and so has Willie Cauley-Stein, who made his first-career start a season ago in Coach Cal's only loss to U of L during his UK tenure. Cauley-Stein, however, knows there's only so much that can be said.
"This year is different because when you're a freshman coming in, you don't have the rivalry because really you don't really know about Kentucky or Louisville," Cauley-Stein said. "You're stuck between five different schools that you're thinking about going to so until you've been here for a year or you've lived in the state, you don't know about the rivalry."
Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle, James Young and Marcus Lee never have, so they're in for a sort of baptism by fire at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Turnovers, rebounding potential keys
Louisville enters the annual rivalry showdown ranked highly in both major polls, but the Cardinals are No. 1 by a fairly wide margin according to Ken Pomeroy's advanced statistical rankings.
The biggest reason? Turnovers.
U of L is second nationally in both offensive and defensive turnover rate and is the only team to rank in the top 25 in both categories. The Cardinals force turnovers on 26.7 percent of their defensive possessions while giving the ball away on offense just 13.2 percent of the time.
The result is lots of extra possessions and lots of extra shots for an already efficient U of L offense. The Cardinals average nearly 10 more field-goal attempts per game than their opponents.
UK, meanwhile, has been inconsistent taking care of the ball. The Cats have committed turnovers on 18.8 percent of their offensive possessions and have committed 17 or more turnovers in four games already this season, including in defeats against Michigan State and North Carolina.
The Cats have made up for their turnovers by creating extra opportunities by crashing the offensive glass. UK leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage at 45.7. U of L is ninth at 41.5.
"They pose a lot of problems for us," Rick Pitino said. "One is they're the tallest team in America and in size certainly. We have a thin front court in terms of numbers and we're not overly big, so their size is going to pose problems for us."
The two teams are also nearly identical in defensive rebounding percentage, meaning the team that exerts its will on the glass will gain a significant edge.
"Big," said Calipari when he was asked of the importance of rebounding. "They're a good offensive rebounding team and so are we. That will be one of those battles."
Calipari, Pitino keeping UK-U of L in perspective
Calipari has coached in more than his fair share of hyped regular-season games, but Memphis-Tennessee stands out.
During the 2007-08 season, No. 2 Tennessee took down Coach Cal's No. 1 Memphis team on the road in front of a sellout crowd and the largest television audience in ESPN history.
"It came down, and the game was so high powered, I can't begin to tell you how fast and how aggressive," Calipari said, "and we had a lead, they made a shot, we missed a shot, they made a shot, late at the buzzer, we missed a shot, they won."
The win propelled the Volunteers to their first-ever No. 1 ranking, but Tennessee lost three times in its final nine games and saw its season end in the Sweet 16. Memphis, on the other hand, wouldn't drop another decision until the national championship game.
All that's to say that final judgment won't be passed on UK or U of L until later, no matter the outcome.
"I coached eight years at Kentucky and I'm going on 13 (at Louisville), so I've seen 21 contests," Pitino said. "There's only been one big game for me and that was when they took our national championship away two years ago (in the Final Four)."
Of course fans from the winning side will enjoy bragging rights and neither Calipari nor Pitino is dismissing that. They're just looking at the bigger picture.
"This is just a very big game on your schedule, and it should be enjoyed," Pitino said. "I know the players enjoy it, but it's much more important for the fans than it is for the players."
Comparing UNC losses
From youth vs. inexperience to size vs. quickness, much has been made of the differences between Kentucky and Louisville.
The teams, however, have one thing in common: losses to North Carolina.
UK fell 82-77 on the road in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Dec. 14, while U of L suffered its only defeat against the Tar Heels at a neutral site on Nov. 24, 93-84.
Taking stock of the two games, both were fast-paced (78 possessions for UNC-U of L, 74 for UK-UNC) and the Tar Heels were efficient offensively both times, scoring 1.19 points per possession against U of L and 1.11 against UK. Both games were foul-heavy as well, with at least 50 combined fouls and 63 combined free throws in each.
The primary difference, as you might expect, came in turnovers and rebounding. UK held a 44-32 rebounding edge against UNC, but committed 17 turnovers to the Tar Heels 9. U of L was outrebounded 40-35 but was even in turnovers, 14-14.