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Virginia Cavaliers vs. Louisville Cardinals: The Big Preview

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Down to just seven players, No. 4 Louisville will try to face a a Virginia team coming off a loss.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The 12th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers play host to fourth-ranked Louisville Monday night at 7:00 p.m. At least this time, the Hoos don’t have much time to think about the heartbreaking loss to the Orange. The blessing of the short turnaround is that Virginia immediately began preparing for Louisville. The Cardinals are coming off a blowout win on the road against BC. They’ve won three in a row and are currently ranked second in KenPom’s rankings (the Hoos rank third).

Of course, Virginia has already beaten Louisville once this year, winning 61-53 at the KFC Yum! Center (the exclamation point really makes the name, doesn’t it?). The Hoos thoroughly dominated that game, leading by 15 at halftime and by as many as 21 in the second half before a furious Louisville rally made the game closer than it appeared. Neither team shot the ball well, which is not surprising for two of the top defenses in the nation.

The Cardinals will be without several regulars in this game, as Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel have been benched for this game, having violated team curfew. This comes on the heels of the hip injury to PG Quentin Snider and the broken hand suffered by his backup, graduate transfer (from Penn) Tony Hicks. Snider has missed the past 5 games and is not likely to be back for another week or so. As a result of the injury and the suspensions, Louisville will have just seven scholarship players for this matchup.

The three players who are out for this game are 2nd, 3rd and 5th on the team in scoring. Snider also leads the team in assists, while Mathiang is second in rebounds. Without Snider, the team has been relying even more on leading scorer Donovan Mitchell. In the five games Snider has missed, Mitchell is averaging 20 points per game. On the season, he’s shooting 37% from 3 but he’s at 44% over just the past five games. To be fair though, three of those games were against the bottom three teams in the ACC. Shooting the 3 isn’t really his strength, though he’s taken a full half of his shots from behind the arc. Last season (in fewer minutes), he only took about 35% of his shots from downtown, and shot just 25%. You’d think the increased efficiency from outside would make him more dangerous going to the rim, but that hasn’t been the case. His shooting percentage on 2s has dropped as has his FT rate. Mitchell is also a quality defensive player and averages better than 2 steals per game. Though just 6’3” 195, he is a very physical player on both ends of the court.

Replacing Snider in the starting lineup for the past two games has been senior David Levitch, a former walk-on. Levitch is a shooter, but doesn’t provide a whole lot else. He’s a 46% shooter from downtown for his career, with more than half of his attempts coming this season. He’s also played more minutes this year than he had in his first three seasons and most of his playing time in prior years was in garbage time.

Even without Mathiang and Abel, the Cardinals are not lacking for frontcourt options. That starts with junior Jaylen Johnson. He’s the team’s leading rebounder and at 6’9” 230, is a beast inside. He’s still pretty raw offensively, and isn’t a real back-to-the-basket scorer, but he’s efficient when he gets the ball inside, shooting over 60% from the field. As we’ve said before, Jack Salt provides a much different opponent than Johnson is used to. And he’s a poor FT shooter.

To counter the Jack Salt effect, the Cardinals may go big. They have two more traditional bigs, led by 7-foot Egyptian Anas Mahmoud. Mahmoud has started every game since the last Virginia matchup, in which he came off the bench for 25 minutes and scored 7 points. He’s listed at 7’0” and 200 pounds. That’s awfully thin. He’s a tremendous shot-blocker, averaging over 2 blocks per game in just 18 minutes per game and has a soft touch around the rim. He’s foul prone, but can be a difference maker when he’s on the court. Along with Mahmoud is sophmore Ray Spalding. Spalding is basically just a smaller version of Mahmoud. He’s 6’10” 215, and is a bit more athletic than Mahmoud. He’s better on the glass, but he’s not quite as good a shot-blocker and isn’t as skilled offensively. He averages about six points per game, with almost all of his points coming at the rim. He’s also foul-prone. Both are very poor FT shooters.

The final piece is freshman wing V.J. King, who is from Fairfax. King’s minutes have ramped up as the season has gone on, and he figures to get a lot of run tonight because of the suspensions. He’s a good shooter (42% from 3), but that isn’t his strength. He’s explosive off the bounce, and in transition. However, he isn’t a good defensive player, nor is he much of a passer or rebounder. He is, however, the future of the Cardinals, so it will be beneficial for the Hoos to get a look at him at this point. He’ll see a lot of Devon Hall across from him. Hall’s strength and wingspan should give King trouble.

Louisville’s defense is legit. Even with so many players out, they’ll defend hard. Without their substitutes, they’re going to have trouble pressing as much as they usually do. That should be even tougher against the Hoos, because the Pack Line makes teams work so hard offensively. As always, the Hoos are going to need to hit some outside shots. The Cardinals are almost forced to go big because of the absence of Adel and Snider, and that gives the Hoos an advantage. The Hoos can match up big if Jared Reuter and Mamadi Diakite get some run, or they could go small and have a huge advantage on the wings. None of the Cardinal’s bigs are capable of guarding Devon Hall or Marial Shayok on the perimeter. And David Levitch is going to have trouble staying with London Perrantes.

The Hoos have had Louisville’s number since the Cardinal’s joined the ACC, and with a depleted lineup, Louisville would need some big games from some unlikely players to come out on top.