TIME Basketball

Jabari Parker Leaving Duke to Enter the NBA Draft

ACC Basketball Tournament - Duke v Virginia
Streeter Lecka—Getty Images Jabari Parker during the finals of the 2014 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2014 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Jabari Parker, one of the best freshman in college basketball, has decided to begin his professional basketball career this year. He explains his decision to go pro, after his team's disappointing upset in the NCAA tournament

All-star Duke freshman Jabari Parker has declared for the 2014 NBA draft, he announced Thursday.

Parker wrote about his decision to leave Duke for Sports Illustrated, laying out the reasons he was tempted to remain at Duke University for another year before beginning his professional career.

“After losing in the NCAA tournament, I needed to clear my mind. I was incredibly disappointed and blamed myself,” Parker writes. “I didn’t watch basketball or go to the gym for several days.”

Parker’s college legacy was a letdown: No. 3 seed Duke was upset early in the NCAA tournament, losing to Mercer. If he instead chose to stay with Duke, he could have a chance to redeem his team in next year’s tournament.

But ultimately, after meeting with Coach K and his parents to discuss his options, Parker settled on the NBA:

Which environment — college or the NBA — offers me the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player?

Which environment — college or the NBA — offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court?

The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA.

Parker will likely be a top pick in this year’s NBA draft on June 26. He was the highest-scoring freshman in Duke history, averaging 19.1 points per game and becoming the first freshman to lead Duke in both scoring and rebounding.

The beginning of Parker’s professional career does not mean the end of his education: Parker said that he plans to graduate from Duke while he’s in the NBA. Parker’s decision to enter the draft also means he’ll forgo his two-year mission common among 19-year-olds at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. He says, however, that he’ll remain religious.

“I don’t consider myself an exception to the rule. At this point in my life I know this is the right decision,” Parker wrote.


TIME Photos

Feel Good Friday: 20 Fun Photos to Jump-Start Your Weekend

TGIF! From pillow fights and elephant showers to Batkid throwing the opening pitch and a 110-year-old man kissing his wife, we're sure these photos will be a fun start to your weekend.

TIME Business of Sports

Sports TV Broadcasting Hits New Highs … in Annoying Fans

Jetta Productions—Getty Images

Lately, many sports fans who have tried to watch the Winter Olympics, or NCAA Final Four basketball, or the Atlanta Braves, or the Los Angeles Dodgers have been frustrated for a very basic reason.

They can’t find the !?#&*!? sporting event on TV.

On Saturday night, countless college basketball fans tuned in to CBS, hoping to watch the men’s Final Four March Madness tournament matchups of Wisconsin-vs.-Kentucky and Florida-vs.-Connecticut. Instead of basketball, viewers were treated to reruns of CBS dramas “Person of Interest” and “Criminal Minds.”

After some confusion, and perhaps some cursing and throwing of remotes, shoes, and cheese dip, previously unaware viewers discovered that for the first time since March Madness has been televised, the national semifinals weren’t shown on network TV. The back-to-back games, played on what’s often thought of the best night of the year for college basketball, were only broadcast on cable. On several cable channels, in fact, thanks to a curious arrangement with Turner Sports, in which TBS hosted the main broadcast, and sister channels TNT and TruTV showed the same game but with different local play-by-play announcers to cater to each team’s fan base.

In any event, the games weren’t on network TV. That was enough to ruin the night for cord cutters, i.e., folks who don’t have pay TV, who have also missed out on the tournament’s many other games shown only on TBS, TNT, or TruTV rather than CBS.

(MORE: Why Las Vegas Loves March Madness Way More Than the Super Bowl)

The arrangement did more than alienate the fairly sizeable portion of fans too cheap to have a pay TV package. Despite an onslaught of coverage telling folks that they games were on cable for the first time ever— according to Adweek, the campaign included digital billboards in subways, ads shown before films in theaters, promos on radio and TV, and a takeover of USAToday.com’s home page—the move to cable did some serious damage to TV ratings as well. Yes, when combined the trio of Turner Sports channels achieved a record high number of viewers for a non-football sporting event on cable, but the shift away from network broadcast also resulted in a multi-year low in ratings overall. The Associated Press reported that an average of 14 million viewers watched the games on Saturday night, down 11% from a year ago when they were shown on CBS. (TBS is in 14% fewer American homes than CBS.)

There’s no mystery as to why any of the parties involved would risk aggravating fans by showing the games on cable rather than CBS: Like so many things, it’s all about money.

CBS and Turner Sports are a few years into a 14-year, $10.8 billion partnership with the NCAA to air the March Madness tournament. One reason that TBS and its siblings agreed to the deal—thereby helping CBS from losing the tournament to ESPN and ABC—is that they were guaranteed the right to air some of the tournament’s premier high-ratings games, rather than just the earlier rounds.

More importantly, these networks, and the powers than be in general in sports and TV, are well aware that live sports is the largest reason many Americans continue to cut a check for a monthly pay TV bill. Time Warner, which owns TBS, TNT, TruTV, CNN, and many other cable networks (and, for a little while longer, Time Inc. and Time.com), obviously has great interest in keeping levels of cable-paying households high. They want cord cutting to hurt, or at least be difficult and impractical for sports fans to circumvent, and moving the Final Four to cable does just that.

(MORE: YouTube Is Going to Use TV to Destroy TV)

The Final Four broadcast is hardly the only example of how larger battles over money and TV rights are frustrating the lives and viewing habits of sports fans—perhaps turning some into former fans in the process. Four years ago, NBC Universal angered hockey fans and the hockey world in general by its decision to air some premier Olympic hockey games on cable rather than the main network. Likewise, fans were only able to view many events from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi by watching them on cable (or streaming them online, only possible with a pay TV account). Of course, Comcast, the biggest player in pay TV, owns NBC Universal, so it makes a lot of sense to strategically broadcast in-demand sporting events in ways that push people to feel the monthly cable bill is still unavoidable, if not exactly well worth the money.

At 162 regular season games plus playoffs, Major League Baseball plays the most games of any pro sport, and therefore it has the most games aired on TV. But thanks to a trend kicked off largely by the advent of the Yankees-focused YES Network more than ten years ago, fans are increasingly likely to be forced to jump through hoops, or at least cough up extra cash, in order to tune in. For instance, an ongoing dispute between Fox Sports and Dish TV in Atlanta will result in some Braves fans being unable to watch nearly one-third of the team’s games this season.

Over in southern California, a huge brawl over Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasts pits the Dodgers-owed SportsNET LA network and its distributor, Time Warner Cable, on one side, and on the other, a range of pay TV providers such as Cox, Charter, and DirecTV, which so far are refusing to pay the high fees being demanded to include the channel in customer packages. Caught in the middle, of course, are the many fans who use other TV providers, and who often don’t live in areas where they could get SportsNET LA even if they wanted to pay for it.

(MORE: Hank Aaron Would Have Faced More Racism Today)

The result is an absurd scenario epitomized by a recent column from the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke, who on Dodgers opening day hit a handful of bars, as well as a taco shop, bowling alley, and a Burger King, trying—and failing—to find the game on TV. The deal the Dodgers cut for the rights to broadcast games is incredibly lucrative for the club. But as Plaschke warned the Dodgers, the money may come at the cost of quite a few fans. “Dodgers, ask your fans if they are willing to sacrifice watching the games on television for the sake of having the league’s richest team,” he wrote. “They would say no.”

Plaschke ran into one sports bar patron, who noted the irony of seeing Dodgers jerseys posted to the tavern’s wall and yet “they can’t even get the games,” he said. “At least everyone can still watch the Angels.”

For the time being anyway.

TIME NCAA Tournament

March Sadness: One Shining Moment Fades Away

Every year, only one team in the NCAA Tournament can walk away with the National Championship, leaving 67 losing squads in its wake. See the pain of a season-ending loss


You Should Root for UConn Over Kentucky Tonight

UCONN vs Michigan State Elite Eight
Elsa—Getty Images Ryan Boatright of the Connecticut Huskies reacts after a turnover by the Michigan State Spartans in the second half of the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City.

It's all for glory tonight as Huskies and Wildcats square off in the NCAA title game. The backcourt battle between the two top-seeded teams is also a college hoops culture clash: The kids who stayed in school versus the ones likely off to the pros

Oh, you’ve got love this Cinderella* final. Since the NCAA tournament expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985, never before have two lower-seeded teams met in the national championship game. Monday night’s title game is a dream matchup between two underdogs* who have charmed the nation.

* Never have the terms “Cinderella” and “underdog” been more of a misnomer. They’d normally apply to much lower-seeded teams. But when the seventh seed is UConn, a team that won a national title just three seasons ago, has won three national titles since 1999 and is a perennial power, and the eighth seed is Kentucky, the winningest college hoops program in history that starts five freshman who may all be playing in the NBA next season, let’s cease any and all pluckiness talk.

In tonight’s title game, homing in on the guards is key. They’re important for both the on-court result and what they say about the tensions surrounding college sports. Kentucky starts a pair of freshman twins from Texas, Aaron and Andrew Harrison. In back-to-back games, Aaron Harrison has hit two of the gutsiest three-pointers you’ll ever see, first stabbing the heart of Michigan in the Midwest regional final, then winning the national semifinal game against Wisconsin with another huge three-pointer in the waning seconds. To borrow a phrase from our pal Bill Raftery, the kid’s got some serious onions.

But UConn’s own backcourt, senior Shabazz Napier and junior Ryan Boatright, have stepped up their defensive game during this tournament run: can these elder statesmen thwart the rookie twins from Kentucky? On Saturday night, Napier and Boatright shut down Florida’s two highly regarded guards, Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II. Wilbeken, the SEC Player of the Year and master of penetrating into the lane, scored just four points on 2-9 shooting, and recorded a single assist. Frazier, a three-point specialist in the mold of a Ray Allen, sank his first three of the game. It was his only one. He only got off two more shots from downtown, and finished with a measly three points.

The backcourt battle is also a college hoops culture clash — the kids who stayed in school (Napier-Boatright) vs. the ones likely off to the pros (Harrisons). Some experts are saying that Kentucky’s tournament run has really helped the brothers’ draft stock. Both Napier and Boatright considered heading to the pros after last season, but decided against it: the title game is a pretty sweet reward.

Boatright’s journey to the championship, in particular, represents college sports in all its craziness. I wrote a magazine feature on Boatright in 2007, when he was just starting ninth grade, because he was at the forefront of a disturbing trend: college coaches recruiting and offering scholarships to kids at younger and younger ages. Boatright was a curious case: USC coach Tim Floyd offered him a scholarship in eighth grade, even though Boatright was only 5-ft., 9-in., and 138 lbs. Boatright and his family gladly accepted the offer. It’s one thing to try to lock-up a man-child. But Boatright was a ninth-grader who actually, you know, looked like a ninth-grader.

Boatright picked his college before he even picked his high school. Recruiting experts scratched their heads. “What am I supposed to do?” Floyd, now the coach at the University of Texas-El Paso, told me at the time. “Should I wait until another school offers and then come in? I can’t do that. Because they’re going to say ‘Well, you’re late.'”

After meeting Boatright back in September of 2007, if you would have asked me to make a bet, right then and there, on his future, I would have wagered against him living up to the hype. He needed muscle, and some serious rotation on his jump shot. As I wrote, “Boatright [is] a bright, personable kid with a supportive extended family worth rooting for.” But gosh, he was so small — not surprising, considering he was 14. And all that pressure – failure almost seemed predetermined.

But Boatright came across unfazed. “I like the pressure,” said Boatright during our conversation, noshing on a chocolate long john at Dunkin’ Donuts before a Saturday-morning shoot-around. “I feed off it. I hear all the negative stuff, I just add another workout. I’ll make them feel stupid in the end.”

I’ve never been happier about being stupid. “He knew that, as a little guy, he had to work even harder,” says his grandfather, Tom Boatright, during a phone interview from Dallas, where he’ll attend his grandson’s championship game. Tom Boatright, who runs a track club in Aurora, helped train his grandson from an early age. Floyd resigned as coach of USC in 2009, after Boatright’s sophomore year of high school, amidst allegations that he gave $1,000 in cash to a middleman who helped steer current NBA player O.J. Mayo to the Trojans.

“After Floyd left, we just didn’t know if the new coach was even interested,” says Boatright. Ryan decommited from USC, but since he met, and maybe even exceeded expectations in high school, offers from plenty of big-time programs came pouring in. Boatright committed to West Virginia early in his senior season, but backed out after coach Bob Huggins signed another point guard. Eventually he decided on UConn, who went on to win the national championship.

In the end, Boatright, who now checks in at 6-feet, 168 pounds, was too good for USC. But his UConn career got off to a rocky start. The NCAA suspended him for six-regular season games for an infraction involving accepting a plane ticket while playing AAU ball. Then he had to sit three more games after the NCAA said he and his mother received additional improper benefits. When he was on the court during the 2011-2012 season, he and Napier, a year older, clashed.

“My freshman year, it was tough,” Ryan Boatright said on Sunday afternoon, CBS Sports reports. “I was used to having the ball all the time and making plays, and scoring the ball. Naturally as a kid, I was immature. You come in and you think it’s all about you. I grew up and, Shabazz will tell you, he wasn’t the best leader at that time. He had some stuff he had to work on. We bumped heads a lot. Both of us being from inner cities, and being tough guys, we ain’t back down to each other. We had some rough practices.”

Then UConn was put on academic probation and barred from playing in the 2013 tournament. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun retired. Boatright, however, never seriously considered transferring. In January, Boatright’s cousin, Arin Williams, was shot to death in Aurora. They were like brothers.

“It’s just been such a long, tough journey,” says his mother, Tanesha, unable to hold back her tears during a phone interview from Dallas. “During the lowest moments, he was the one giving me encouragement.” When Boatright committed to USC in eighth grade, Tanesha was taken back by the criticism: that she was hungry for money, rushing her son into a major life decision. “After hearing the commentators and critics, it’s a relief to know I wasn’t a crazy mom,” says Tanesha, a single mother of four.

Boatright texted Tanesha just this morning, telling her to relax and smile. “Shouldn’t I be the one doing that?” Tanesha says. On offense, Boatright learned to accept his supporting role to Napier, the team’s top scorer. “Batman can’t function without Robin,” says Tanesha. “Even though Ryan’s not Batman, there are a thousand people in this world wishing they were Robin.” Boatright, who Tanesha says is on track to graduate, could still wind up leaving a year early for NBA riches. However, he’d probably benefit from a senior year of seasoning, out of Napier’s shadow.

But no matter what, Boatright conquered the early pressure, stayed in school longer than many pro prospects, and fought through setbacks and tragedy. If UConn’s upperclassman beat the hotshot frosh tonight, forgive this stupid spectator for giving a little cheer.

TIME NCAA Tournament

Moments of Madness: Weird Photos From the NCAA Tournament

College basketball's chaotic tournament produces some strange moments. These are 10 of the best

TIME March Madness

The Only Final Four Drinking Game You’ll Need Tonight

Patric Young
David J. Phillip—AP Florida center Patric Young dunks during practice for an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game, April 4, 2014, in Dallas.

It's a good time to be a sports fan as we prepare for today's big Final Four games: UConn vs. Florida and Wisconsin vs. Kentucky. To celebrate, TIME presents its inaugural Final Four drinking game. Enjoy, but don't forget to drink responsibly

Final Four parties are super fun. The games are played on a Saturday night, so unlike, say, parties for the Super Bowl, you don’t have to worry about work in the morning. And they’re also a celebration of something more: the best few weeks of the sports calendar. College hoops is about to crown a champ, baseball’s getting into the swing of things, the Masters is coming up, the NBA playoffs are approaching, the NFL Draft is in the foreseeable future. It’s a good time to be a sport fan, tax season be damned.

So, to help prep for today’s big games — Florida vs. UConn at 6:09pm EST, and Wisconsin vs. Kentucky at 8:49pm, both on TBS — and celebrate your good sports fortune, TIME presents its inaugural Final Four drinking game. Enjoy, but please do so responsibly. Obey all local drinking age laws, don’t overindulge and take a cab ride home if need be.

Here are TIME’s rules for a Final Four drinking game:

1. The first time Florida’s Michael Frazier makes a three-point shot, imbibe. It shouldn’t take that long: Frazier can catch fire quickly. Against South Carolina in early March, Frazier sank a school-record 11 three-pointers: this season, he led the SEC in three-point percentage field goal percentage, shooting at a 44.7% clip. He also led the SEC in an even more important stat, true-shooting percentage, at 65.1% (true-shooting percentage is an efficiency measure that takes into account three-point field goals, two-point field goals, and foul shots). Frazier models his work ethic after Ray Allen, the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers: on game days, he’ll launch upwards of 400 shots to get in rhythm.

2. Every time you hear the word “student-athlete” in an NCAA commercial during the games, drink. The NCAA has a habit of running propaganda ads during big events, touting how the organization is like a spirit squad for “student-athletes,” has the backs of “student-athletes,” etc. Drink now, cause that term may soon be disappearing. According to the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago, “employees” is the more appropriate name for college athletes — at least for football players at Northwestern.

3. Every time UConn star Shabazz Napier makes an outside shot with a defender harassing him — the kind of shot that makes you say “noooo, what are you doing?” – and that shot goes in anyway, chug away. Napier’s an expert at making the “holy s–t” shot.

4. Choose which mascot TBS will show first in each game. Pick one, and drink if you’re correct. I’ve got Albert E. Gator and Bucky Badger.

5. The first time an announcer mentions that UConn coach Kevin Ollie played for 11 different NBA teams during his 13-year career, start double fisting.

6. For CBS, the Final Four has traditionally served as one big promo for its upcoming coverage of the Masters, which starts next week, on April 10. So even though the games are being broadcast on TBS this year, the networks are partners on NCAA tournament coverage. You’ll surely hear the soothing Masters piano – “ding, ding, ding, ding,” — that accompanies the Masters plugs. So each time you hear the Masters theme song, dream of azaleas and Amen Corner and all the mythical beauty of the Augusta National, and take a few soft sips. You’ll have a healthy buzz.

7. Sip every time TBS shows Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan scowling on the sideline. Like this. Or this. Ryan’s always been a first-class all-tournament scowler.

8. Kentucky has reached the Final Four with five freshman starters. Michigan, led by Chris Webber and Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard, was the last team to win this much with five rookies, back in 1992. That Michigan team was christened “The Fab Five.” So during Kentucky-Wisconsin, the first time you hear a “Fab Five” reference from one of the announcers, you know what to do.

9. Ever since the NBA set a rule in 2005 essentially mandating that players spend a year playing college ball before entering the pros, Kentucky coach John Calipari has done a better job than any coach in the country of recruiting a collection of talented freshmen, molding them in to a championship-caliber team, and shuttling them to the NBA. So the term “one-and-done” is now stuck to Calipari’s suit. When the TV cameras show Calipari, and someone says the words “one-and-done,” you will drink.

10. Wisconsin’s most intriguing player is seven-footer Frank Kaminsky. His game, and personality, are a little quirky: Kaminsky can fool you with his awkwardness, as he’s just as comfortable firing threes as he is posting up around the basket. And he was always a bit of a class clown, earning the nickname “Frank the Tank” a decade ago, in homage to Will Ferrell’s character in the movie Old School. So when someone mentions “Frank the Tank” on Saturday, you may have to pull a Frank the Tank yourself.

But seriously, be careful. Don’t end the night like the original Frank the Tank did. Because on Final Four Saturday, you don’t want to miss the drama. If we’re lucky, Florida-UConn and Wisconsin-Kentucky will treat us to two classics. Let’s all raise our glasses to that.

TIME NCAA Tournament

The Final Four: 4 Predictions

Getty Images Scottie Wilbekin of the Florida Gators scores against the Dayton Flyers during the Elite 8

Since Obama bombed his bracket, see how the pro predictors are calling the shots

The final rounds of the Big Dance tip off Saturday in Dallas with Florida playing UConn at 6:09pm and Wisconsin taking on Kentucky at 8:49pm. Kentucky’s thrilling upset over Michigan makes the 8-seed one to watch. And while Florida has only lost two games this season, one of those losses was to the team it’s now up against. The other? To Wisconsin. See who the favorites are below.

FiveThirtyEight and Nate Silver
The lead data-cruncher has Florida favored over Connecticut and Wisconsin over Kentucky with Florida winning it all. Silver, who called the 2012 Presidential election correctly, also accurately predicted Louisville as last year’s tournament champ.

Sports Illustrated
The magazine’s new issue might be cursing Kentucky by putting the team on its cover. The issue puts Kentucky and Florida in the finals with the overall estimate that Billy Donovan will bring home his third ring for the Gators.

ESPN’s Top Bracket
ESPN’s current bracket leader mike_opheim24 (who has 10 different brackets) earned a perfect prediction score for the Elite Eight. For this weekend’s match up, he has Florida and Kentucky meeting on Monday ending with the Wildcats cutting down the net.

Warren Buffett Bracket
Though nobody won Warren Buffett’s billion-dollar bracket challenge, the top scorer thus far puts Florida and Kentucky in the finals game, predicting Florida will win 72-64.

TIME Business of Sports

These March Madness Tickets Are Going for a Tiny Fraction of What They Should

College students can buy tickets for this weekend’s NCAA March Madness Final Four in Arlington, Texas, for just $40 apiece, a tiny fraction of the average seat price.

Will students turn around and flip their seats for profits of four, five, perhaps even ten or twenty times what they paid? Well, surely some will be tempted to do just that. After all, these are kids who will soon join the throngs that collectively owe $1 trillion in student loans. But it looks like the entrepreneurial students out there eager to make some cash on the secondary ticket market won’t be able to cash in.

The ticket sales operation for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, one of the four teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, spell out a long list of rules and requirements for those seeking to purchase Final Four seats at the student rate. “Students may only purchase one Final Four ticket,” is the first policy listed. And this one is the rule that makes it all but impossible for students hoping to sell their seats:

The credit card used to purchase tickets must be presented by the purchasing student to gain admission to AT&T Stadium, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. A credit card can only be used to purchase one student ticket, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Students will also be required to present their WISCARD to gain admission into AT&T Stadium

The rules are the same for students at the three other schools in the Final Four, the University of Florida, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Kentucky. Students who are eligible to purchase seats at the $40 rate should have already received emails explaining how to proceed, and there’s a good chance all of the $40 tickets will be snatched up by Monday afternoon, if not sooner. For everyone else, the NCAA’s sales partner offers a host of pricey options, as do the universities, including travel packages running over $1,000 per person (sometimes not including tickets) and ticket packages for the upcoming semifinal and final game starting at $300, plus a fee of $10 or $15 per ticket. (Also available, curiously: foldable chairs used by UConn during the tournament for $150 apiece.)

Still, the $300 price for tickets is cheap compared to the going rate on the secondary market. The resale and ticket information site TiqIQ.com released data on Sunday indicating that the average price for “all sessions” tickets (entrance for both semifinal games on Saturday) was $1,367.55.

Tickets for the championship game on Monday night are cheaper, averaging $614 of late, with the cheapest “get-in” price going for $118, though of course at this point it’s impossible to know which teams will be playing in the game. As with most sporting events, it appears wise to wait to buy, as it’s expected prices will go down as game day nears. For the last three NCAA championship games, the average ticket price wound up under $500, and the cheap seats sold for under $100, according to TiqIQ.


Kentucky Congressmen Bet Bourbon on Big Bluegrass Basketball Rivalry

Andy Barr and John Yarmuth are betting some home-state product on Friday night's big game

Kentuckians know they have two world-class products: bourbon and basketball. So it’s only fitting that freshman Rep. Andy Barr, a Republican who represents Lexington, and Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat who represents Louisville, bet several bottles of bourbon on Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup between the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

The in-state rivalry between the two hard-court titans was cemented in 1983 when the “Dream Game”—an epic, Elite 8 overtime clash in which Louisville beat Kentucky—drove the state general assembly to mandate a non-conference matchup each and every year. Since then, the game has forged Bluegrass bragging rights, pumped up over the past few years with a Kentucky championship in 2012 and a Louisville championship last year.

“College basketball is king to the commonwealth of Kentucky,” Barr tells TIME. “Even [Louisville and former Kentucky] Coach [Rick] Pitino once said that the University of Kentucky is the Roman empire of college basketball.”

Both members have considerable knowledge of the game, common for the towns in which they grew up in and now represent.

“A lot is on the line here in the Sweet 16, but I like Kentucky’s chances based on our size, our talent, and the way we’ve been playing recently,” Barr says. “Julius Randle is absolutely unstoppable,” he adds, referring to the 6’9, 250-pound freshman who is considered by many analysts to be one of the top players in the 2013 class. “He is a force. I don’t care if he is double teamed or triple teamed, you can’t stop Julius Randle. You can only hope to contain him.”

Yarmuth, who will attend the game on behalf of his former employer Louisville, understands that his team, which lost to Kentucky in December, has some challenges despite being the favorite. “It’s a huge size disadvantage,” Yarmuth tells TIME. “It’s not a great matchup for us.”

But he believes his team can still pull out the victory. “We have to hit a reasonable percentage of three pointers to win,” Yarmuth says, putting on his ESPN commentator cap. “You’ve got senior leadership,” he adds. “We lead the country in margin of victory, turnover margin—we’re at the top in both offense and defense efficiency. We beat Connecticut three times pretty easily, and Connecticut is still in the tournament.”

Yarmuth says that Coach Pitino can give the Cardinals the edge. “Give him five days to prepare—particularly for a [Kentucky] team that’s very inexperienced and doesn’t really have much of an offense,” Yarmuth says. “We can really cause them fits.”

Whoever wins will be a happy man, and the recipient of several bottles of Kentucky’s finest bourbon—including Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve (Yarmuth’s “default bourbon”), Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Town Branch, Barrel House and Jim Beam.

The game starts at 9:45 p.m. EST on Friday.

While the two lawmakers have clear biases, Sente Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who was student body president at Louisville as an undergrad and president of the Student Bar association while at Kentucky’s law school—has had some difficulty choosing sides. “You know, I didn’t get this far in my line of work by answering questions like that,” McConnell said Tuesday of the rivalry, with a soft chuckle. “That is the hottest issue in our state.”

McConnell had an embarrassing flub when his campaign released an ad this week—he is in a fiercely contested election battle with Kentucky’s Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes—that accidentally included a clip of Duke’s 2010 championship instead of Kentucky’s. Matt Bevin, McConnell’s primary challenger, has poked fun at the mistake, releasing an ad on Thursday showing McConnell in a Duke uniform.

“Most folks in Kentucky are either Louisville or Kentucky fans—there are not a lot of Kentuckians who are both,” says Barr, who calls himself a “diehard member of the Big Blue nation. … But it is a source of pride for even Kentucky fans to know that we’ve got two great national powerhouse basketball teams.”


Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser