Date: Saturday, February 7
Time: 7:00 ET
This is the third big matchup in a row for the Hoos, and the third consecutive time they will air on ESPN. You'd think that after being a 1 seed last year and a top 5 team this year, that maybe the Hoos would get more love from ESPN. But no, we only get ESPN love when we're playing the "traditional" powers.
This matchup is with Louisville, currently ranked #9 in the AP poll (#8 in coaches poll). They are 10 on KenPom, 12 in RPI and 8 in ESPN's BPI. They sit at 19-3 (7-2 ACC) after winning @Miami on Tuesday. The Hoos have had a nice break since winning @UNC on Monday night.
Rick Pitino's teams are always going to be fast-paced, and this team is no different. However, they are slower that the Hoos' last two opponents (although not much slower than Duke). Louisville will run pressure, full-court defense for almost the entire game. They'll also run some different zones in the half-court.
Louisville wants to force turnovers. That is how they generate a lot of their offense. They are 9th in the country in steal rate and 8th in steals per game. They are also 14th in forcing turnovers. The Hoos, as we know, do not turn the ball over. They are 6th in the country in turnover rate (6th lowest turnover rate) and 40th in the country in avoiding steals.
This game will be an interest contrast in defensive styles. The Hoos are 3rd nationally in defensive efficiency and Louisville is 6th. The Hoos do not foul much (13th in nation in opp. FT rate), and are tough to score against inside (3rd in opp 2pt FG%). They do not force turnovers (297th), but they can be beaten by good outside shooters (43rd in opp 3pt FG%). The Hoos also do not allow very many offensive rebounds (6th in the nation). Louisville, as already mentioned is very good at forcing turnovers. But they also foul a lot more (89th in opp FT rate). They are much tougher against 3s (18th) and they are not great on the defensive glass (195th).
Fully a third of points scored against the Hoos this year have been on 3 pointers. This does not bode all that well for a Louisville team that doesn't shoot the ball very well (281st in 3PT FG%), nor do they shoot the 3 all that much (167th in 3s attempted per FGA). Only three Louisville players are really threats from outside, and none of the 3 shoot it as well as the Hoos do as a team.
Lousville's two guards are both small and quick, and combine to take nearly 60% of the team's shot while they are on the floor. Chris Jones was a backup to Russ Smith last year, and while he is a similar player, he has struggled to have the same impact. He is shooting almost 37% from downtown, but just 38% on 2s (Smith was well over 50% on 2s). Jones is just 5'10" 175 pounds. He's very quick, one of the quickest players in the nation.
Along with Jones in the backcourt is Terry Rozier . As a freshman last year, Rozier looked very good in f 190 pounds, he's really more like a 2nd PG. He and Jones will switch roles regularly, even within the same possession. The Hoos may struggle to match up with the quickness and versatility of this duo.
The Hoos have had trouble with some quick players, who've been able to penetrate and draw the defense before kicking to shooters. The main shooter he'll be looking for is Wayne Blackshear . Though Jones is the top shooter by percentage, Blackshear is the Cardinal's top shooter by volume. He's struggled this year, shooting under 30%, but last year he was nearly 40% and he is certainly a capable shooter. The Hoos would be wise to know where he is at all times, because he is very good at moving without and ball and spotting up for a 3.
In the frontcourt, the main man is Montrezl Harrell . He could've gone pro last year, but came back to try to up his draft stock. He may end up regretting that decision, because he hasn't improved. That said, he is still very good. He's 6'8" 235 and moves very well for a guy that size. He's strong, athletic and a beast on the interior. He'll be all Darion Atkins can handle. The other two guys in the frontcourt for Louisville are Mangok Mathiang and Chainanu Onuaku . Mathiang is a tall and lean defensive presence who doesn't do much on the offensive end. Onuaku is the younger brother of Arinze Onuaku, who played at Syracuse and has bounced around the NBA D-League for a while. Chiananu is a freshman, and is only averaging around 18 minutes per game, but he's already very good defensively and on the glass. He's one of the top shot blockers in the nation, and looks like he could be even better than his brother (who was very good for Syracuse).
Louisville's offense basically revolves around the two main guards creating their own shots. They'll run the occasional post for Harrell, but otherwise it is a lot of one-on-one and iso. The Hoos are generally very good defensively against one-on-one players. The key will be crashing the defensive boards hard, because Louisville will miss a lot of shots. Keeping the Cardinals to one shot per possession will be important.
In some ways, Louisville is a good matchup for the Hoos. Teams that can't shoot don't generally do well against the pack-line. And since the Hoos do not turn the ball over very much, the pressure defense isn't a big concern. But on the other hand, Louisville's guards are very quick, and as they say...speed kills. The quick guards could get into the heart of the defense and cause problems.
Louisville's length inside could cause problems for the Hoos' big men. Anthony Gill usually has a quickness advantage in the paint, but likely not against Harrell. This is another game where the Hoos could use a big dose of Mike Tobey . He had a solid game against UNC on Monday, and another one could be big in this game. He has size over all of Louisville's big men, so if the Hoos can get him the ball in the post, he could be big. Draw a couple of fouls on Harrell and defending the interior against Louisville just got a whole lot easier.
Playing at home gives the Hoos an advantage. Yes, they lost their last home game, but there were uncharacteristic mistakes in that game, especially down the stretch. It is fair to wonder if the team got a caught up in the ESPN hype machine a little bit. This game, while still on ESPN, isn't getting as much publicity (because it isn't Duke), and that may be to the Hoos' benefit. Duke got hot late and hit a number of three pointers, which sealed the game. Louisville doesn't have the same shooting that Duke had, so that shouldn't be as much of a concern.
Take care of the basketball, don't get sped up by Louisville's pressure defense, and manage the defensive glass. Those are the 3 things the Hoos need to focus on, and they should come away with a win. It won't be easy, Louisville is a tough team and Pitino's guys always fight hard. KenPom predicts a 63-54 win, which would be comfortable enough.